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Need to value-engineer HTPC build

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February 22, 2012 11:53:06 PM

First-time builder here, very excited about it!

I posted a little while back about plans to renovate an old machine from work into an HTPC. Can't locate the thread now for some reason, or else I'd update there ... but suffice to say, I've scrapped that idea and now planning to build new.

Primary uses will be ripping/storing/playback of DVD/BD; streaming online content; and maybe mild gaming in future. Not planning on anything intense enough for SLI or Crossfire. Shooting for solid mid-level build, with some headroom left for future expansion/upgrades. Currently stuck on satellite, so no tuner card (yet). Planning for W7 platform.

HTPC will route through receiver into home theater system. Also planning to upgrade big/old/ugly CRT to 1080p flatscreen (looking around 60'-70") or projector.

Plenty of room for components in the home theater setup, so planning on ATX build to maximize future expansion, but preferably horizontal configuration to fit with receiver.

Hoping to purchase within next 1-2 weeks.

Budget is $700-750 before MIR, including OS and wireless keyboard.

Current build looks like this:

GIGABYTE GA-A75-D3H FM1 AMD A75 (Hudson D3) SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI ATX AMD Motherboard, $100
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128518

AMD A8-3850 Llano 2.9GHz Socket FM1 100W Quad-Core Desktop APU with DirectX 11 Graphic AMD Radeon HD 6550D, $130
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103942

G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL, $47
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231314

Crucial M4 CT064M4SSD2 2.5" 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD), $95
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148441

Seagate Barracuda Green ST2000DL003 2TB 5900 RPM SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive, $130
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148681

nMEDIAPC Black Aluminum / Acrylic / Steel HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case, $70
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811204037

COOLER MASTER GX 450W RS450-ACAAD3-US 450W ATX12V v2.31 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply, $50
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817171060

LG Black 12X Super Multi Blue with 3D Playback & M-DISC Support SATA WH12LS39 LightScribe Support - OEM, $75
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136241

IOGEAR GKM561R Black 2.4GHz Wireless HTPC Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel, $40
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823176018

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium, $190
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16832116716

TOTAL $927 :pfff: 



I've been exploring several options for value-engineering my build to get within budget. Of course, first things first: this is my first time even trying to spec out a build, have I screwed up anywhere? Anyone see any compatibility problems here?

Second, I'm considering several options to bring it back down into budget - but being a newbie, I'm not sure where to start cutting costs while minimizing loss in performance. I've come up with several ideas, could use some input.

As far as priorities, I want to focus on cutting costs now that could be added back in the future as upgrades, preferably without compromising my upgrade path. I need to cut at least $177 to get back under budget, I'm looking at the following options, in roughly this order:

1. Eliminate SSD (Savings: $95). As much as I like the idea of zippy boots, that's all I'd really get out of an SSD for now. Gaming is a low priority, so I'm not particularly worried about other software sitting on an SSD. Plus, I'm assuming that I could add an SSD back in sometime in the future, especially after prices drop. I'd have to reinstall the OS onto the SSD, which I assume would be easy enough ... but any problem with trying to remove the OS from the HDD, without losing all my data/libraries that I've built up in the meantime?

2. Downsize HDD to Seagate Barracuda Green ST1500DL003 1.5TB 5900 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive, $100 (Savings: $30). I originally started with this drive, but on one hand 500 GB seemed a lot of space to give up to save $30. On the other hand, it's obviously too much if it puts me over budget, and I can manage on 1.5TB for quite a while. On the other hand, maybe buying 320-500GB is the way to go, until prices come back down. On the other hand, the Seagate Barracuda ST500DM002, $75, seems like the best option along these lines, though it's 7200 rpm, not 5400. On the other other hand, downsizing from 1.5TB to 500GB is a pretty big difference just to save $25. On the other hand ... that's a lot of hands. 1.5TB seems like the sweet spot to me. (Cumulative savings: $125, out of $177).

3. Downgrading CPU to A6-3650 (Savings: $20). The 3650 is still a quad-core, but graphics engine is the 6530D instead of 6550D. I'll be honest, I can't figure out what this really means for me in the real world - but the 3650 seems to get quite a bit of run for HTPC's, so I'm assuming it's a marginal difference, at best? The 3650 also clocks a little slower (I'm not exactly up to OC'ing, at least not yet), but I'm not sure it would really impact my planned uses. Maybe I notice a difference at some point down the line with future upgrades, but I think this is probably pretty minimal. (Cumulative savings: $145, out of $177).

4. Downgrade RAM to 2x2 1600 (Savings: $17) or 2x2 1333 (Savings: $19). 8 GB in the original build seems like overkill for current planned uses, and relatively easy to add more memory in the future, especially with four slots on MB. I'd stick with the 1600, rather than save $2 by slowing down to 1333. (Cumulative savings: $162, out of $177)

5. Downgrading BD burner to random BD drive (Savings: $15). I don't have particular plans to burn BD's, but $15 seems awfully cheap to add burning capability in the first place. Reviews of this drive specifically mention successful ripping of BD's, too, while some reviews of cheaper BD drives cite problems ripping. Considering that ripping into a digital/on-demand library is a top priority, I'm really hesitant to risk this. (Cumulative savings: Still $162, out of $177).

6. Utilize 300W PSU that comes OEM with case, eliminate Cooler Master 450W unit (Savings: $50). I think I have a pretty good idea what you all will say about this one. If nothing else, if the A8-3850 runs at 100W, I know I want to make sure I have plenty of power. A couple of things strike me, though. First, so far I'm not really powering all that much outside the APU: no video card, no sound card, not even a TV tuner. I dumped the SSD at Step 1. Maybe I can get away with 300W? I've tried using online power calculators, and have gotten estimated results ranging from 250W to 525W for the same build. (Gee, thanks for the help.) Second (and kind of in conjunction with the first part), as long as the 300W unit is coming OEM, and I'd have it anyway, maybe I can get some use of it for a while, and upgrade to 450W later, especially if/when I add SSD, additional HD's, etc. Am I fooling myself ? I'm a newbie and I'm not easily offended, so feel free to tell me that I'm just off my rocker here. (Cumulative savings: $212, out of $177, if I go with this?)

7. Downgrading CPU to A6-3600 (Savings: $50 total, additional $30 savings over A6-3650). The 3600 has the same graphics engine as the 3650, but it's only a triple-core. I'm pretty reluctant to give up a core, unless you all tell me it's really no big deal for future upgrades. I think I'm ruling this option out. (Cumulative savings: Still $162, out of $177, if using 450W PSU, $212 if not.)

8. Downsizing to mATX, GIGABYTE GA-A75M-D2H (Savings: $20). Still FM1 and A75, so current functionality seems awfully close (if not identical), but I'm actually starting to sacrifice future expansion/upgrade path by sacrificing memory channels and PCI slots. To be honest, I'm not sure how many I'd really use down the line anyway ... but downsizing MB feels awfully permanent. (Cumulative savings: $182, out of $177, with 450W, $232 with 300W).

9. Windows 7 OEM instead of Retail (Savings: $90). I know this is easy money to many of you, but I've got to be honest: for my first build ever, with thoughts of needing to reinstall the OS in the future (onto an add-on SSD), I just don't have the comfort level to risk running into problems with OEM. Maybe my next build.

10. Generic cheap, ugly, ATX mid-tower. (Savings: $50). If all else fails, I go there. And I suppose, at least in theory, there's no reason I couldn't buy a nice case in the future, and migrate everything over ... right?

11. Random ugly, corded keyboard from the bottom of the closet (Savings: $40). It's not the ugly part that concerns me so much as the corded part. I'm planning to put the HTPC unit in an entertainment cabinet on one side of the room, and control it while my fat behind is sitting on a couch on the other side of the room. What's the point of driving my HTPC with a keyboard on a 4-foot cord? And no, a 50-foot cord isn't the answer, either.


All right ... if you've read this far, I thank you. If you care to weigh in, suggest ideas, or even just smack me upside the head, I'd appreciate it even more. I've gotten the bug, and I know you folks are the ones to seek out for help. (This kind of reminds me of learning to mod my car through online forums ... when I started I didn't know how to change my own oil, but before long I was replacing my entire exhaust from the heads back.)

Back to the issue at hand: I need to bring my project into budget. I know I can get there, but I don't have the wisdom or experience to balance the best/worst choices for doing it. If you were trying to downgrade/downsize my build to fit budget, how would you do it?



More about : engineer htpc build

February 23, 2012 1:13:29 AM

a 50 ft cord is ALWAYS the answer. Just eliminate the nice case. I got a decent case for 20 bucks. Really cool case. But almost no fan options. HEC RABB63 case, that's what I have. Can fit lots of 120mm fans, I can manage like 6. But the top one dosnt fit strait. Still works.
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February 23, 2012 1:16:15 AM

Just use the 1.5TB drive also. You can always get a SSD later, plus get the retail so you can install it onto the SSD in the future.
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February 23, 2012 1:19:30 AM

But get faster spinning drive, 7200 RPM. 1TB even should be enough, and can always add a RAID/more hard drives later. A faster spinning drive will have fast read/write. You need a sound card also, unless the mobo includes an integrated one.
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February 23, 2012 6:26:54 AM

dont downgrade your psu,os and mobo and u are good to go
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February 23, 2012 3:17:19 PM

ccbad said:
a 50 ft cord is ALWAYS the answer.


obv


ccbad said:
HEC RABB63 case


Haven't been able to find this particular one, but looking at HEC 6C28BB8S Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case, saves me $30.


ccbad said:
Just use the 1.5TB drive also. You can always get a SSD later, plus get the retail so you can install it onto the SSD in the future.


Definitely doing this, unless someone comes along to talk me out of it for some reason.


ccbad said:
But get faster spinning drive, 7200 RPM. 1TB even should be enough, and can always add a RAID/more hard drives later. A faster spinning drive will have fast read/write.


I originally started with 7200's, then somewhere something convinced me that slower was quieter/better for HTPC. Read/write times will obviously impact ripping/building up a library, but will they affect playback? And I don't think they would impact streaming ... or would they?


ccbad said:
You need a sound card also, unless the mobo includes an integrated one.


Onboard HDMI, audio engine is Realtek ALC889. Reviews suggest this is good, but not great ... but the same's true for my receiver and speakers, so I think that works. I certainly don't have budget to upgrade my audio right now, in any event.


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February 23, 2012 3:32:30 PM

serialkiller said:
dont downgrade your psu,os and mobo and u are good to go


New sale price today on hec X-Power Pro 650 650W Continuous @ 40°C ATX 12V v2.2 / EPS 12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready Power Supply, ]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817339024&nm_mc=EMC-IGNEFL022312&cm_mmc=EMC-IGNEFL022312-_-EMC-022312-Index-_-PowerSupplies-_-17339024-L05A&RandomID=808181731658417320120223083953]

Sale price makes it cheaper and bigger than the Cooler Master 450 in my original build - same price after MIR's, not that I want to hold my breath either way.

Reviews on both seem about equally mixed - plenty capable, with occasional DOA units.

Any thoughts on hec vs. Cooler Master for PSU? Any reason I wouldn't go bigger for less?
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February 23, 2012 4:29:48 PM

Don't worry, there's an easy way to get your build to meet your budget without making too many sacrifices.

Firstly, know that OEM copies of Windows can be reinstalled as many times as you want, I've personally done it. OEM copies are designed for system builders like yourself, the idea is that that copy of Windows is tied to the system (specifically, the motherboard, so if you switch that out you'll likely need a new copy of Windows, but other upgrades don't count).

A retail copy allows you to install Windows to any number of PCs (but only one at a time), so it's basically more readily transferable. You also pay extra for a fancier box and manual, and you can email Microsoft directly for tech support (all of dubious value, in my view...). In short, regular users are overcharged for the retail version and basically everyone would be smarter to go with OEM, especially you :) .

That saves you $90.

The second thing you should be aware of is the reliability of "green" hard drives. These drives are designed to stop spinning and go into a lower power mode when they aren't being called on (this is aimed at lower power usage and quieter sound profile). The problem is (and I learned this the hard way), constantly spindling up and down again causes it to wear out much faster than standard hard drives, so you can run into unexpected failure sooner than you'd expect.

So the operative question is this: how much space do you need right now (before adding another SSD down the road)? Hard drive prices are really inflated right now (due to major flooding at their factories), and they're also going to make your build noisier. Removing the hard drive from your build gives you ~$43 to spare, I'd recommend using that to save up for a new SSD down the line, or you could get this Intel 320 with the extra money saved right now.

To help calculate: with 8GB of memory, Windows is going to take up no more than 25GB. With a 64GB SSD, that leaves you with ~37ish GB, or ~53ish GB with the Intel SSD. Not a lot of space, but I don't think you need to skimp in those other areas. You also definitely want a SSD in your build, trust me.
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February 24, 2012 1:05:39 PM

Illumina said:
OEM copies are designed for system builders like yourself


lol, thanks for the vote of confidence!

Seriously, though, I might be coming around to OEM ...



Illumina said:
The second thing you should be aware of is the reliability of "green" hard drives. These drives are designed to stop spinning and go into a lower power mode when they aren't being called on (this is aimed at lower power usage and quieter sound profile). The problem is (and I learned this the hard way), constantly spindling up and down again causes it to wear out much faster than standard hard drives, so you can run into unexpected failure sooner than you'd expect.


Excellent advice, thanks!



Illumina said:
So the operative question is this: how much space do you need right now (before adding another SSD down the road)? Hard drive prices are really inflated right now (due to major flooding at their factories), and they're also going to make your build noisier. Removing the hard drive from your build gives you ~$43 to spare, I'd recommend using that to save up for a new SSD down the line, or you could get this Intel 320 with the extra money saved right now.

To help calculate: with 8GB of memory, Windows is going to take up no more than 25GB. With a 64GB SSD, that leaves you with ~37ish GB, or ~53ish GB with the Intel SSD. Not a lot of space, but I don't think you need to skimp in those other areas. You also definitely want a SSD in your build, trust me.



Building a digital library is the idea that got this whole project rolling, so storage space was always a priority. Of course, that was before I had any idea there was a supply problem with HDD's. My approach so far has been to start with at least 1 TB, with thoughts of expanding (and/or building NAS) in the future. To be honest, I haven't really considered how a system would look without a large HDD - intriguing idea, but a pretty drastic change in plans ...




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February 24, 2012 8:43:22 PM

Yeah, hard drive prices make it harder to meet a budget right now. You can get about 160GB for $80 and only be a little over budget, if you want. It really depends how much space you're expecting to use right away (I once built a system with 15 terrabytes for a client who wanted to rip their entire DVD library... Scary to consider added price of such a venture now)
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February 25, 2012 1:34:25 AM

The HEC 6C28BB8S case dosnt have many fan options, but I have not built a HTPC yet. But, I do know that computers need cooling. And 1 80mm will not do it. Especially for gaming, even light gaming. You'd have to get an after market CPU cooler. But I might need some corrections, please do.
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February 25, 2012 2:11:22 AM

Nevermind, the 6C case have room for 2 120mm fans. But only one front and back.
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February 25, 2012 2:44:39 AM

ccbad said:
a 50 ft cord is ALWAYS the answer. Just eliminate the nice case. I got a decent case for 20 bucks. Really cool case. But almost no fan options. HEC RABB63 case, that's what I have. Can fit lots of 120mm fans, I can manage like 6. But the top one dosnt fit strait. Still works.

My bad I meant HEC 63RABB
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February 25, 2012 2:46:07 AM

Thanks for all the help. I made a few changes to the build, going with W7 OEM. And as long as I'm pulling on my big-boy pants, swapped out the A8-3850 for the 3870 so I can try my hand at OC'ing at some point.

Changed the case and HDD, and kept the SSD. Added $50 to my budget to put towards the HDD.

Now I just want it all here, and now!

Any final thoughts/parts check?


GIGABYTE GA-A75-D3H FM1 AMD A75 (Hudson D3) SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI ATX AMD Motherboard, $100
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128518

AMD A8-3870K Unlocked Llano 3.0GHz Socket FM1 100W Quad-Core Desktop APU with DirectX 11 Graphic AMD Radeon HD 6550D AD3870WNGXBOX, $140
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819106001

G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL, $47
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231314

Crucial M4 CT064M4SSD2 2.5" 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD), $90
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148441

WESTERN DIGITAL Caviar 1TB SATA Hard Drive * Black *, WD10000LSRTL , 7200 rpm, 64 MB cache, 6Gb/s, $150
http://www.frys.com/product/5643481?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG

RAIDMAX ATX-2000B ATX Computer Case, $24
http://www.frys.com/product/6249870?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG

hec X-Power Pro 650 650W Continuous @ 40°C ATX 12V v2.2 / EPS 12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready Power Supply, $40
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817339024

LG Black 12X Super Multi Blue with 3D Playback & M-DISC Support SATA WH12LS39 LightScribe Support - OEM, $75
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136241

IOGEAR GKM561R Black 2.4GHz Wireless HTPC Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel, $40
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823176018

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit - OEM, $100
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16832116986


Total: $806 ;)  ;) 
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February 25, 2012 5:41:47 AM

Hm, I recommend reconsidering your PSU choice. It's a component you really don't want to have fail... I did some research and couldn't find any in-depth reviews of that particular unit, but the internals of other HEC PSUs don't seem very high quality. It seems to be chiefly a middling, budget-oriented brand without high build quality. Frankly, I haven't been able to find a quality PSU I've ever been comfortable recommending under $50, but I do encourage you to look at this Seasonic unit or this one from Antec, both have high build quality (Japanese capacitors and good voltage regulation), I've used them both in builds before.

You can offset the extra money a quality PSU will cost by going for 4GB of memory rather than 8, since the loss of 4GB of memory won't be a huge deal in a HTPC (and memory is obviously easy to upgrade, provided you aren't using a huge CPU cooler). Kingston has great quality assurance, check out this 4 GB kit.

Most people go with M-ATX or smaller cases for their HTPCs, but ATX are easier to work in (and also cheaper).
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February 25, 2012 12:34:18 PM

Illumina said:
this one from Antec


15% code for Antec + free shipping = just $11 more than the hec before MIR, $16 after. I'm in. Thanks for the recommendation and all the help!

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February 25, 2012 2:11:55 PM

Order placed!

GIGABYTE GA-A75-D3H FM1 AMD A75
AMD A8-3870K
G.SKILL Ripjaws 2 x 4GB DDR3 1600
Crucial M4 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive
WESTERN DIGITAL Caviar Black 1TB SATA HDD
RAIDMAX ATX-2000B Case
Antec HCG-400 Bronze
LG Black 12X BD-RW
IOGEAR GKM561R Black 2.4GHz Wireless HTPC Multimedia Keyboard
W7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit - OEM
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February 25, 2012 10:49:50 PM

If you start gaming, get razer gear. It's the best, I use it.
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February 26, 2012 2:43:10 AM

sarphinius said:
Sharp case! Looks like it's out of production.


That stinks, that's an awesome case. Tons of cooling options. I know I love it.
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February 26, 2012 4:54:13 AM

never buy psu other than corsair,seasonic,silverstone,antec and few exeptional.

Thats my 2 cent
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March 1, 2012 6:40:58 PM

UPDATE

Last-minute switch to mATX. Was planning to build a custom media center, but happened upon a great deal and bought one, instead. I couldn't find a full ATX case that would fit into the cabinet, but still got such a great deal on the cabinet (spent less than we would have spent on raw materials for a custom build) that it was worth modifying my build.

Swapped over to Gigabyte GA-A75m-D2H, and used the savings on the cabinet to upgrade to a Silverstone Grandia GD04B. Was still able to fit Antec HCG-400 into the case.

Completed most of the build last night. Waiting for my optical drive to arrive, but was able to install W7 OEM to SSD through external DVD drive/USB, no problems at all. Several drivers needed updating, including ethernet drivers, but was able to copy them over to a flash drive and get them onto the new machine. Wireless keyboard plug-and-played. Got the HDD initialized and all set. I did see my life flash before my eyes for a minute when my PSU wouldn't power up, but then learned how to jump-start it, and all was good.

Still figuring a couple of other things out. Need to research case fan options: case has three 120mm fans, but motherboard only has one case fan port. Case came with a pigtail to connect all three fans to a single molex, but they'd be always-on. I set it up that way for now, but might continue researching alternatives. Might also disconnect one of the fans, because it's right behind all of the cords coming out of the PSU. Tied back the unused cords best I could, but there's still a lot of obstruction in front of that fan, and all three fans together is loud enough to be audible (just barely).

Also need to work through an audio issue. Not getting audio through my onboard HDMI, but I suspect it's a system setting. Having had a chance to troubleshoot too much yet, but did update the audio drivers, no help.

Many thanks to the experts here who help out regular mopes like me. I'm a big fan of learning new things and DIY'ing, and this has been a blast. I never could have attempted this (much less built a machine that actually boots, at least so far) without educating myself reading these forums!
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March 2, 2012 7:19:10 PM

Congratulations on your new build :) .
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March 7, 2012 6:08:06 PM

Best answer selected by sarphinius.
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