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First timer looking to tackle a Home Theater PC

Last response: in Systems
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November 20, 2012 4:56:28 PM

Hi all-I wandered over here through Googling "build your own PC" and following a few links on the subject. I have never built, upgraded, or modified a PC before, but I am willing to learn. I'm a relatively hands-on, DIY type of person (I do my own work on my cars, most of my own work on the house, etc...) so I look at this as I would any other type of DIY project, but I'm having a hard time understanding some of the key concepts critical to making it all work. So please, if you would, take pity on a newbie and help me understand what I need based on what I'm looking to build.

I'm finally putting the finished touches on our basement family room, the centerpiece of which will be a 60" LED Flat Panel TV (exact brand and model to be decided)-the idea is to “power” that TV with a Home Theater PC which will allow me to integrate streaming content from the web with cable/OTA TV, as well as store movies. The problem is that I don’t have a basic understanding of what the requirements would be for such a system, for example, I don’t really have a good sense of how much storage I need (ie: what would be too little vs. what would be overkill), how much RAM, what processor speed, etc… I’m starting to get a handle on what the components are, what they do, and how they go together, but I’ve yet to figure out what I really “need.” Perhaps it would be helpful to list what will expect from my HTPC and then try to ferret out the system requirements from there.

Run Windows Media Center 7 (Or 8?) – I know that 8 is out now-is there any reason to go for it over 7 or are they basically the same? Also, is there some kind of “stripped down” OS that can be bought that basically just has WMC or am I buying the same version that someone would be using to run the PC they do their taxes with?

Watch 1080p/HD programming/play Blu-Ray movies – Both via cable/OTA or via Netflix, Hulu Plus, or some other streaming service. I want to make sure that I have plenty of processor speed and RAM to make sure that I’m not dealing with pixilation or “judder,” etc…

DVR HD programming – DVR function is HUGELY important. We use our DVR a lot and end up maxing it out quite a bit, so being able to store lots of programming (in HD) would be a requirement. Right now we have a DVR through DISH Network that can store about 100 hours of standard definition programming. I’d want to be able to store 150-200 hours of HD programming. Also, I plan on installing multiple tuners (more questions on that later) because we’ll inevitably end up wanting to watch one thing while recording another, both in HD of course, which I think is more of a processor issue since it involves doing two things at once correct? What about RAM requirements?

Rip and store DVD movies/music – We’re really not huge movie buffs but we do have a fair amount of DVDs (lots of kids movies, holiday movies, etc…) that we’d like to preserve. Probably about 100 if I had to estimate. As far as digital music we have hundreds of CDs. How much storage space would I need for something like this? 1TB? 2? Should I plan to add some kind of external storage down the road?

From what I’ve read, what I’m looking to build is probably relatively simply compared to those who are building HTPCs that can also handle gaming, 3D video, etc…but I want to make sure that I’m buying components that will handle what I need without a problem. I’m looking to spend no more than $500. I appreciate any and all help-mostly what I need is a more basic understanding of what components I need, what works with what, etc… As far as assembling it all, installing the operating system and the rest, that seems like the easy part. Thanks!
November 20, 2012 7:10:28 PM

Hello and welcome!

The good news, as you'll have gathered, is that your listed requirements are pretty straight forward and will hardly tax even the most modest HTPC build.
There are many ways for you to achieve this and you'll be presented with a number of options from various folk here and on any other forum. To help you greatly with this you're pretty much searching for "HTPC build" in google, then you'll be presented with a good number of ways/ideas to achieve your goals - the pros and cons will normally be listed on good sites.

There are stand-alone 'boxes' that play attached HD content and some offer streaming. However you'll get by far the greatest flexibility, functionality and upgradeability if you build your own HTPC (simply, a small form factor PC). You'll be balancing current needs against possible future needs (and HTPC gives you alot of options for future functionality and for some of those, it's good to project now e.g. psu and cpu). This is also balanced against power useage - you want as efficient a build as possible. The good news is that nowadays, even moderate/mid end cpu, psu and gfx cards are very efficient - they'll only draw what they need.
For this, and as some generic help, ideally (as one build option) you're looking for:

- a small, quiet, unobtrusive enclosure but balanced with the capacity to hold a number of HDD's to store your local content. HDD's are starting to return to pre-flood prices (still some way to go!) but a couple of 2-3TB's will get you off to a good start. I use a Lian Li PC-C60 but there are many others.

- A small SSD (60-120GB) for the OS. My own HTPC includes W7 but the front end for media play-back uses a great program called XBMC (http://xbmc.org/) - check this out! - it may offer most if not all of what you need and it's continually being updated. XMBC also features live TV and video recording (DVR/PVR) abilities - more info from the site.

- a small form factor motherboard e.g. mATX or smaller (but must fit your enclosure). These offer multiple connectivity and features (built in audio, usb3, sata6, PCIe, etc), and anything not present can normally be added later.

- of course, you don't need a high-end CPU; a power efficient intel i3 should be all you need (ivy bridge being a bit more more efficient than sandy but make sure whatever you chose is compatible with the motherboard!)

- a good, efficient PSU (80%+ bronze or greater) of wattage for your current and potential future needs (light/moderate PC gaming future possibility on that 60" TV?)

- blu-ray player (though you'll be able to rip these, your dvd and cd's to the HDD)

- For potential future purchase - low power dedicated graphics card (there is at least one ATI that is powered from the PCIe socket only), or of horsepower to suit.
Alternatively, for your own listed needs, the cpu's own graphics (built in to modern CPU's e.g. sandy/ivy HD2000-4000) will commonly be all you need.

- memory - you don't need much; 4GB is fine though memory is pretty cheap these days.

- Programable remote (+ IR dongle on PC) + maybe wireless/bluetooth keyboard from the many on offer. For Media Centre duties look for controllers that are compatible - not essential but it helps (alternatively and inaddition, you can program these controllers - Logitech offer a number, as an example)

- Check out HDBaseT as a future option to easily sending your local content (up to 4k res + ir remote + ethernet over a single cat6) to other rooms in the house.


Just a few ideas to help you get started. Do some "HTPC-build" googling to help you further in your component selection. Post again here or any other forum and we'll be glad to help.
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a b B Homebuilt system
November 20, 2012 7:30:40 PM

You don't need much of a high end system. Here's a combo special from newegg for today:

http://www.newegg.com/Special/ShellShocker.aspx?cm_sp=S...
The board is exactly what you need, with hdmi port, sata III support, etc. You may not have enough room for the case to sit upright in your cabinet. Here's some basic recommendations if you want to select the parts individually:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $70 shipped
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $42 shipped after rebate; this board has ivy bridge support and an hdmi port
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $130 shipped
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $32
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $50
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $60 (optional but recommended)
Get your windows 7 copy off craigslist for around $70; be sure it's unopened; I recommend you hold out for a pro copy; it runs windows xp files if you have some older favorite software.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $19
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $21 shipped

Total: about $494 after rebates
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Related resources
November 20, 2012 8:32:12 PM

o1die said:
You don't need much of a high end system. Here's a combo special from newegg for today:

http://www.newegg.com/Special/ShellShocker.aspx?cm_sp=S...
The board is exactly what you need, with hdmi port, sata III support, etc. You may not have enough room for the case to sit upright in your cabinet. Here's some basic recommendations if you want to select the parts individually:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $70 shipped
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $42 shipped after rebate; this board has ivy bridge support and an hdmi port
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $130 shipped
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $32
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $50
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $60 (optional but recommended)
Get your windows 7 copy off craigslist for around $70; be sure it's unopened; I recommend you hold out for a pro copy; it runs windows xp files if you have some older favorite software.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $19
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... $21 shipped

Total: about $494 after rebates


Thanks! A few questions:

First I think the top link is incorrect-when I click I get a link to a USB cable?

Next, how about swapping the Intel Core i3-3220 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz ($130) for a Intel Pentium G620 Sandy Bridge 2.6GHz ($67)?

What do I lose by not going with the SSD? Just a little speed navigating WMC right?

Finally, I think I can skip the USB keyboard and mouse because I already have them

Does that all sound kosher?
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a b B Homebuilt system
November 20, 2012 8:45:37 PM

Yes to the G620 and keyboard/mouse. First link was supposed to be a newegg shellshocker combo special good for today only, but it was amd, and you sound like you prefer Intel. SSD's are virtually silent, have no moving parts, and boot up in about 15 seconds. I'll never go back to a conventional hardrive with moving parts again. My old hardrive has backup files, but is disconnected. Will only use it if the ssd fails. I don't recommend windows 8 if you can find 7 at a better price. Windows 8 benefits touch screen devices and has a completely different look which some folks don't like.
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