I am contemplating a laptop vs. building either a micro-ATX or mini-ITX HTPC.
For the mATX / mITX scenario, I’m asking for recommendations on: Case, power supply, & mobo. I can handle researching the other components.
Low cost is the primary factor, seconded by upgrade flexibility (i.e., mobo handles a wide range of CPUs from low-end budget to high-end). Must be below $500, would really like to get down around $300.
Currently I use an ASUS G73JH. I leave it plugged in for power and plugged into my tv’s HDMI. I close the lid and use the TV as the monitor. It sleeps after about an hour and I can wake it with the wireless keyboard. My TV is a Hisense 42” that’s supposedly a 1080p TV, but resolution from the PC defaults to 1366x768 and looks bad due to interlacing if you try to force it higher. I don’t know if it’s actually 1080p because I have no either devices (e.g., DVD player) to test. In other words, enough power to do 3D or true HD is not my priority.
I’m sure cases come bare, with power, with optical drives, etc. so in general, the fewer individual items I have to buy the better I guess. The case is primarily about ventilation, secondarily about having a spare card slot. The optical drive doesn’t matter as long as it’s DVD, would be nice to have –R or –RW. The power I talk about below – needs to be able to handle upgraded CPU in future. I’d rather not have to research power or optical drive individually if I can get a combo that meets my needs.
Musts: Netflix, Hulu, DVDs (but not Blu-Ray), interwebs, webmail, Excel/Word, DVDFab & Handbrake. It must have HDMI that carries sound (will go to the TV).
It must be able to run Windows, I’ll probably buy Win7 but I’m open to Win8.
Last time I built a PC was a decade ago, but I remember spending significant time making sure the power source could handle the Watt load on each rail. I don’t know if that’s still a problem these days with low-cost power supplies; if so I want to make sure my power supply can handle the load with a little margin for future upgrades, especially eventually having the most powerful CPU the mobo can handle.
That computer lasted so long because I got a flexible mobo. I want this mobo to be able to handle low-end CPUs now (low-cost that can handle my Netflix and hulu), while also having the ability to range all the way up to today’s high-end fast stuff; that way in 3-5 years I can spend very little money maxing out the CPU and still have a serviceable unit, not having to upgrade anything else except maybe add another stick of RAM.
It must have at least 3 USB 2.0 plugs somewhere (front or back).
Would really like: light gaming (Civ5, SimCity, XCOM – all on low to med settings is fine with me). DVD-R or –RW. 1 or 2 front USB 2.0 ports. Built-in wireless to the point where I don’t have to plug in a USB wireless stick. I don’t care if this is built into the mobo, uses a card slot, or what, though I would prefer things not sticking out (e.g., antennas) if the price of something that doesn't stick out is within $20 of something that does stick out. The fewer buttons and things sticking out, especially in the front, the better. Right now the toddlers don’t seem to try messing with the G73JH much, but then again it’s closed and there are no buttons or things sticking out to be messed with. I’d also like to have one spare card slot; from reading some posts I think in the future I could see myself wanting to install a TV tuner, video recorder to make it like a DVR, etc. In terms of case, I would like to make sure it’s well ventilated because this HTPC will be stored in an open face entertainment cabinet. Heat is a moderate concern; my current ASUS G73JH gets pretty warm but does not overheat in the same space, so I have a feeling I’ll be okay with a case that is decently ventilated with a fan (no old-school NES case passive-cooling builds , sorry.)
Nice to have: Having 5.1 audio, especially built into the mobo, would be nice but is not a requirement. If 2 mobos are otherwise equal but one can handle my old speaker set, I’d take that. I have an old set of speakers that have 3 plugs: front (green), rear (black I think), and bass (purple). Those wires go to the front center speaker where power and volume are controlled, which then has a cable that goes to the sub-woofer. The other four speakers have individual RCA wires coming from the sub-woofer. I don’t know if these speakers will even make sound coming from the PC when I have HDMI that includes sound going to the TV, so that’s why this is not a priority. (No, the TV does not have enough plugs to handle the speakers; I’d either have to buy a new set of speakers or live with a sort of “3.1” setup that didn’t sound any better than the TV’s built-in speakers.) Having a USB 3.0 plug somewhere would be nice because my external HDD I use for backup is 3.0. Having an Ethernet jack in addition to the WiFi would be nice, but is not a requirement. I may get a webcam; I don’t know if those use USB or HDMI or what. If HDMI, then I need 2 so the TV can remain plugged in. In the end, I can still always use my G73JH’s built-in webcam for Skyping.
Don’t care about: I don’t care if it’s Intel or AMD.
I don’t care about 3D. In fact, I don’t really care too much about the 1080p issue. Again, because the TV defaults to 1360x768, I’m not getting that anyway. And my internet is so slow I’m fine with watching 480 streaming Netflix or Hulu, just 720 is icing to me.
I don’t care about overclocking; I’m too nervous to bother trying and would rather have a stable system than have to sit there and tweak and test and always be thinking about it.
I don’t care if the audio is built into the mobo. I don’t care if the video is built-in / shared with an APU. In fact, for simple internet video watching and low-end occasional gaming, I think I’d prefer the simplicity of that; takes up less space, lower power consumption / heat generation, less motivation in the future to spend money on upgrades that don’t really suit the purpose of this machine.
I don’t care about XBMC or any other special HTPC software… I convert all my DVDs to mp4 (protects the DVDs from toddlers) using DVDFab and Handbrake, and I just navigate around in the folders like it’s a regular PC, watching them through the built-in Windows player. This works for me because mp4 also works on my Samsung tablet (for traveling toddlers).
I don’t care about IR remote control… partly because I’m used to using my wireless keyboard and will retrieve it anyway, so I don’t hitting the power button while I’m up. Also, because of how I currently do things: I let my laptop sleep when I’m not using it and simply wake it with the wireless keyboard.
I also don’t care about SSD boot times since I’m just going to leave it powered on and wake it from sleep.
I don’t care about Bluetooth.
I don’t care about PS/2 for old keyboards / mice, nor old VGA connections.
I know that was long, but I figure the more detail the better in narrowing down what I’m looking for. Straight-up recommendations are appreciated, but I’m also open to being redirected to other places for research, especially in figuring out the power supply situation. I used to use the AMD cheat sheet that listed all the components and what rails they used and how many Watts they used, but I don’t remember where to find that or if it’s even relevant a decade+ later. Thank you so very much in advance.