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Help me build a cheap HTPC

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October 14, 2011 6:04:59 AM

As always, thanks for everyone's help in advance.

I'm looking to build a media center for my dad when he upgrades his TV at christmas. I've been looking around and I've come up with a couple things but I haven't quite found a build priced as low as I want, so I thought I'd ask the experts. The usage on this machine is pretty basic so I don't mind cutting corners on performance to save money.

Here are the things I need for the build:
*Case: I'm not worried about cooling because I won't be using a graphics card. My biggest concerns here are a small size and something that will look relatively unobtrusive, i.e., something that doesn't look like a computer tower.

*CPU: I'd like something with an LGA 1155 socket (reason below), but anything is fine. Something like a dual or triple core at 2.5ghz would be great.

*Motherboard: The most important thing is onboard graphics through either VGA or HDMI (preferably HDMI) - I won't be using a discrete gpu. The only expansion cards I'll be adding are a wireless card and a TV tuner. A mini-ITX board with a mini PCIe slot and a PCIe 2.0 x16 or x1 slot would be excellent, but a micro-ATX board would also be acceptable. Also, I don't need PS/2, firewire, eSATA, s/pdif, or coaxial ports and USB 3.0 would be nice but is not strictly required.

*TV Tuner: I don't know anything about TV tuners. It seems like every time I read reviews, half of them are perfect and the other half are terrible. I don't need any special features, I just want it to work with Windows 7.

*Wireless Card: Some mini-ITX boards with mini-PCIe slots come with these. Otherwise I'll need to buy one.

*RAM: Anything in 2x2GB, 1333mhz/1600mhz, 1.5V, CAS latency 9. With the instability of RAM prices I can just pick this later.

*PSU: With no GPU obviously most anything will do.

*Optical: I'm not going to worry about Blu-Ray just yet. I'll pick a $20 CD/DVD drive.

I don't need a hard drive included in this build. I haven't exactly decided what to do there, but I don't think my hard drive choice will influence the rest of the build.

Also, I would prefer there to be a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot on the board. I'm not including a discrete gpu but I would like the user to be able to add one later if they wanted to do so. I understand that most boards have a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, but mini-ITX boards only have one slot and that slot can sometimes be a PCIe 2.0 x1 slot or a PCI slot.

The rest of the details are given below.

--------------------

Approximate Purchase Date: It will be a Christmas Gift, so I'll need to order the parts by about December 10th.

Budget Range: Let's say $500 max, but I'm looking to get it closer to the $400 range. Lowest possible cost is the point of this thread.

System Usage from Most to Least Important: HTPC. I will be streaming video from a server, using a TV card to play and record, using netflix, playing music, and other standard tasks like web browsing and office applications. No gaming.

Parts Not Required: I only need the box, so no monitor, keyboard, mouse, OS, etc. I also do not need a graphics card - I will be using onboard graphics. Additionally I salvaged a 150GB 2.5" 5400RPM hard drive from a laptop that I will be using (at least for the time being) as the only drive on the machine so do not include a hard drive.

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: I usually use newegg but anything reputable is fine. I'd rather not buy used parts, but refurbished or open box products are fine.

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: I would prefer something based on socket LGA 1155. I have an i5-2500K that I will upgrade to Ivy Bridge some time from now and when I do that I would like to put the 2500K in this machine. I understand, however, that AMD is usually king of this price range and if it saves me $50 I'll happily go with something from AMD.

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No discrete graphics at all

Monitor Resolution: I don't have any control over this. The recipient has not yet purchased the monitor, but I imagine it will be a 50"-60" TV in a moderate price range for that size.

More about : build cheap htpc

October 14, 2011 6:28:45 AM

What you need is an AMD Llano. A great cpu with a great IGP.

A6-3650 Llano ( Quad core with great GPU)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

DVD drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

RAM
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Power supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HDD
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I didn't bother putting the prices and choosing a case since you are going to buy it by christmas, the prices would have gone down by a buck or two. You choose the case btw.

You won't need to upgrade this for a while btw. I think this build would suit his needs for a long time until it breaks.
October 14, 2011 9:20:39 AM

danraies said:


System Usage from Most to Least Important: HTPC. I will be streaming video from a server, using a TV card to play and record, using netflix, playing music, and other standard tasks like web browsing and office applications. No gaming.


All you need is this

Western Digital WD TV Live Plus HD Media Player
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Everything else is just a waste of money...
Related resources
October 14, 2011 10:53:02 AM

danraies said:


*Motherboard: The most important thing is onboard graphics through either VGA or HDMI (preferably HDMI) - I won't be using a discrete gpu. The only expansion cards I'll be adding are a wireless card and a TV tuner. A mini-ITX board with a mini PCIe slot and a PCIe 2.0 x16 or x1 slot would be excellent, but a micro-ATX board would also be acceptable. Also, I don't need PS/2, firewire, eSATA, s/pdif, or coaxial ports and USB 3.0 would be nice but is not strictly required.



I've found AMD motherboards are great for HTPC's due to their integrated graphics and they're very cheap compared to Intel boards.

MSI 880GM-E41 AM3 AMD 880G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Any PSU over 250 should work fine, however, in case you add a graphics card in the future, it might be wise to invest in a 400-500W PSU.


AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition Callisto 3.2GHz 2 x 512KB L2 Cache 6MB L3 Cache Socket AM3 80W Dual-Core Desktop Processor - C3 Revision HDZ555WFGMBOX - A dual-core CPU that can be unlocked to a quad-core.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


October 14, 2011 12:53:15 PM

at that price range your only real option is to go with a combo board.....every thing you need is right on this board

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ad 4 gigs of ram and a hard drive and your good to go.....

i know its only 1.6 gig but you can oc it to 2.2 and in all honesty its faster than youd think... no different than a laptop really...

i built one using an asus atom/ion combo and my lil brother still uses it to surf the net,,, watch anime,,, and watch blu-ray movies.......all studder free!!!

and this is a better 2 year newer board.....
October 14, 2011 1:45:18 PM

Quote:
*TV Tuner: I don't know anything about TV tuners. It seems like every time I read reviews, half of them are perfect and the other half are terrible. I don't need any special features, I just want it to work with Windows 7.


What type of video source does you dad have? Cable, Satellite, Over-the-Air (OTA)?
If cable/satellite, does he need a set top box to view channels?

Quote:
Also, I would prefer there to be a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot on the board. I'm not including a discrete gpu but I would like the user to be able to add one later if they wanted to do so. I understand that most boards have a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, but mini-ITX boards only have one slot and that slot can sometimes be a PCIe 2.0 x1 slot or a PCI slot.


This all but rules out an Mini-ITX board. You're looking to add a wireless card, a TV Tuner, and still want the ability to possibly add in a discrete graphics card later on. I'd definitely would stick with a Micro-ATX motherboad.

Case: hec Black HTPC case w/300watt PSU - $60
Motherboard: ASRock A75M-HVS - $70
CPU: AMD A4-3400 Llano 2.7GHz dual-core - $80
RAM: G.Skill 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1333 - $26
Optical Drive: LG CD/DVD Burner - $18
HDD Bay Converter: Rosewill 1x3.5" to 2x2.5" HD Drive Bay Converter - $5

Total Cost so far - $259

I didn't add a TV Tuner card yet as we need to know the video source.
I didn't add a wireless card, because I really can't recommend it if at all possible. Where is the system going to be located in regards to the wireless router? How many walls will the signal have to carry through? Is there ANY WAY possible to hard wire this system?

-Wolf sends
October 14, 2011 2:18:54 PM

ok i changed the mobo to a matx
October 14, 2011 7:11:19 PM

Hi guys, lots of great ideas here - thanks for all the replies. I'm gonna try to respond to everything.

@cutebeans Llano would be a great choice, unfortunately I'd like to spend a little less than that on my cpu and mobo. I agree that it's one of the best HTPC processors, but I'd like to get away on a lower budget if I can.

@michxymi Those are interesting things and do have their place in the world. However to my knowledge they do not offer a web browser, they do not allow installation of programs, and they do not allow several other things that a computer can do. It is kind of silly to say that everything else is a waste of money...

@kclayr That motherboard and cpu are about what I'm looking for, so thanks. Is unlocking that processor to a quad-core a safe/easy process? If you could provide some links about that, I'd appreciate it.

@ScrewySqrl That second combo looks good but it's a little more than I would like to spend if I can avoid it. I also don't want the hard drive, remote, or blu-ray.

@badtaylorx I have seen those and they do seem nice for the price. I've seen some mini-ITX boards that inclide the mini-PCIe wireless cards. That's a loaded combo for the price, though - it will go on the list of options for sure.

@Wolfshadw Using a mini-ITX board with a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot and a mini-PCIe slot would give the option for the user to replace the TV tuner with a graphics card. However, after getting some suggestions, doing some more research, and seeing the types of case that fit micro-ATX boards I've given up on the mini-ITX boards in favor of micro-ATX anyway. The build you provided is great. Is the power supply provided in that case going to be reliable?

Now to address some of the other questions:

In terms of the TV tuner input, I am not sure right now where my Dad will be using this machine. The two options are
(1) cable input (time warner if it makes a difference) without a set-top box and
(2) satellite input from a set-top box.
Could I get seperate TV tuner recommendations for both situations? Are there TV tuners that work for both situations?

What are our opinions on the Phenom II x2 555 (3.2ghz dual core) vs. the A4-2400 Llano (2.7ghz dual core)?

Thanks again for all the help!
October 14, 2011 8:07:10 PM

then Phenom II dual core is a stronger CPU, but the Llano has a better GPU

Best solution

October 14, 2011 10:21:12 PM
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Quote:
@Wolfshadw Using a mini-ITX board with a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot and a mini-PCIe slot would give the option for the user to replace the TV tuner with a graphics card. However, after getting some suggestions, doing some more research, and seeing the types of case that fit micro-ATX boards I've given up on the mini-ITX boards in favor of micro-ATX anyway. The build you provided is great. Is the power supply provided in that case going to be reliable?


Unfortunately, I don't have that information. I've never used hec HTPC cases. If the budget were higher, I'd definitely recommend getting a different case (no power supply) and dropping a quality one in there.

Quote:
In terms of the TV tuner input, I am not sure right now where my Dad will be using this machine. The two options are
(1) cable input (time warner if it makes a difference) without a set-top box and
(2) satellite input from a set-top box.
Could I get seperate TV tuner recommendations for both situations? Are there TV tuners that work for both situations?


The problem with traditional TV Tuners when used in conjunction with a set top box is that you can't use the TV tuner capabilities of the card. All the channels sent by the cable/satellite company are (normally) encrypted. The set top box does the decryption and sends the single channel signal to the TV (or in this case the TV Tuner card). There are devices available now, that can replace the set top box (Cablecard tuners), but they are more expensive as well and really start to push the budget.

For the set top box scenario, I'd really recommend swapping it out with a cablecard and something like this: Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 - $140 (Check with your satellite company to make sure you can use this). The cablecard (which you get from the satellite company) and this device act as your "set top box" and does all the decryption your current set top box does. It also allows you to record HD content. Essentially turning your computer into a TIVO (without the hard drive space limitations).

For the Time Warner Cable scenario, I'd probably recommend any of the Hauppauge or AVerMedia PCI-Ex1 TV Tuner cards that has a ClearQAM tuner. Since this location does not require a set top box to do the decryption, all the channels your Dad gets are sent ClearQAM.

If budget allows, I'd recommend this Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 - $105
If not, then I'd probably recommend this Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1250 Hybrid - $50

Quote:
What are our opinions on the Phenom II x2 555 (3.2ghz dual core) vs. the A4-2400 Llano (2.7ghz dual core)?


I agree with ScrewySqrl. The Phenom II x2 555 is more powerful but requires a discrete graphics card (and an AM3 motherboard). The A4-3400 Llano does not.

-Wolf sends
October 15, 2011 11:23:47 PM

Wolfshadw said:

Motherboard: ASRock A75M-HVS - $70
CPU: AMD A4-3400 Llano 2.7GHz dual-core - $80


So far I'm leaning toward this mobo/cpu plus Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid TV Tuner . @Wolfshadw I appreciate the input on the TV tuners. I'm not going to spend the extra money for the set-top box situation and I don't think I need the extra features on the 2250. I'm still thinking about how much I want to spend on the psu/case and I'll get whatever ram and optical drive is cheapest at the time.

There was a question that I missed at the time about wireless. The computer will probably have access to ethernet, but I wanted to give it a wireless card anyway. They're relatively cheap and it's a nice feature depending on where you want to put an HTPC. I know enough about wireless cards to choose one out of the 10000 available on newegg, but I have a question about mini-PCIe cards. I have a Dell D630 with a fried motherboard and I've already salvaged the HDD from it, but it also has a wifi card (obviously) that might be salvageable. I've opened it up and it looks like a mini-PCIe card and on Dell's website they call it a "mini card." I'm wondering first if the "mini card" is actually a mini-PCIe card (I suspect that it is), and if so, are there PCI to mini-PCIe adapter cards? I'm thinking that's a longshot.

The D630 can be found here:
http://www.dell.com/us/dfb/p/latitude-d630/pd
October 16, 2011 3:00:20 AM

Even if it is a mini PCI-E wireless card, the adapters (yes, they exist) would cost more than just purchasing a new wireless card.

-Wolf sends

October 16, 2011 9:04:16 AM

Best answer selected by danraies.
October 16, 2011 7:29:55 PM

Hi guys, I've gotten a lot out of this thread, just one last question. Today's Shell Shocker on newegg is going to be an ASUS TV tuner for $20
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
I know it's a budget card, but $20 is basically the price of a pizza for two, so I'm thinking it might be worth the risk. Any thoughts on the card before I buy it, though?


All of five minutes after posting the question I noticed that the deal is $20 after a $40 mir. I'm not going to be banking on the 50/50 chance of getting the rebate.
!