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Confessions of a Serial HTPC Builder - Part 2

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April 6, 2006 4:06:51 PM

Is smaller really better when it comes to building HTPC's?
April 6, 2006 9:26:20 PM

Another finely written article...thanks for the info!

Covered many pitfalls that I hadn't really thought about.
April 6, 2006 10:17:36 PM

Ditto, Tom's has the best articles!

I think that a small form factor is essential to the HTPC. I have always thought that the Hiper Media Chasis (Reviewed by Tom's earlier) would be a great case. Only one expansion slot though...
Related resources
April 6, 2006 11:15:30 PM

These articles are tremendously informative, while I feel sorry for the failed attempts I am glad to see someone showing why these systems fail.

I have yet to attempt my on true HTPC, mainly because I consider the faults that are brought up in this article, and always felt I'd need a lot more power to do it right, these articles are evidence of that. It is a little dissapointing, but I will have to wait a little longer before I can chuck my dvd player. :cry: 
April 7, 2006 9:09:51 AM

The major flaw in this article is picking a cube-shaped case for a HTPC-system. The width standard for any hifi-equipment is 43cm, so I would really go with a case that meets that standard. That way the case is more easily placed ie. above the AV-receiver. Also its cooling performance is better and components more easily installed.
April 7, 2006 3:51:48 PM

Quote:
I have always thought that the Hiper Media Chasis (Reviewed by Tom's earlier) would be a great case. Only one expansion slot though...


I agree. That is a really slick looking case. Either some of these cases were not available when I built the MEGA 180 or I need to brush up on my google skills :D 

I'm thinking that the Hiper Media case would be best used as a front end HTPC Perhaps with an underclocked processor. I'm a little shy of putting major heat producing components into such a small space after building the MEGA 180.
Pentium M processors are supposed to be easy to cool and Siggy Moersch had a really difficult time keeping heat under control with the Hiper Media box. so erroring on the side of caution is a good idea with that one.
April 7, 2006 4:02:18 PM

Quote:
These articles are tremendously informative, while I feel sorry for the failed attempts I am glad to see someone showing why these systems fail.
It is a little dissapointing, but I will have to wait a little longer before I can chuck my dvd player. :cry: 


Thanks! I've always been good at finding all of the dumb mistakes that can be made in a project by wandering blindly until I trip over them. :lol:  In part 3 of the series I'll go over my dream system so don't lose hope in the HTPC yet. Trust me, your DVD player's days are numbered :D 
April 7, 2006 4:20:29 PM

Quote:
The major flaw in this article is picking a cube-shaped case for a HTPC-system. The width standard for any hifi-equipment is 43cm, so I would really go with a case that meets that standard. That way the case is more easily placed ie. above the AV-receiver. Also its cooling performance is better and components more easily installed.


I couldn't agree more. cube style cases don't look right with standard AV equipment. They're a little better than a tower, but if you really want to have an HTPC that seamlessly nestles into your home theater, you're going to want a more traditional AV sized case. Some of my favorites are the Ahanix 'D series' cases and some of the Silverstone cases. There's also one by Zalman called the HD160 that looks really promising. (at the very least, you can be sure that a zalman cooler will fit in it. :D  )
April 7, 2006 6:48:31 PM

Another amateur HTPC article from Tom's Hardware... Why would you even consider putting a software MPEG tuner like the AIW in an HTPC?? Windows MCE does not list the AIW or any other software card as an approved tuner. Using a hardware card would also reduce your CPU utilization and lower your temps. For real information about building a HTPC go to HTPCNews.com.
April 7, 2006 9:21:55 PM

IMHO, form follows function, which I believe this article illustrates well:

1. First, the case must fit in the space you have.

- My Bedroom AV cabinet is 17" wide and 14" deep, but has adjustable shelves for height. There are few cases that fit the depth requirement.

2. The case must be able to accommodate the HW you want, so the final system is capable of running the software you want.

- When I considered building an HTPC for my Living Room, and eventually to power a front projector system, I decided I also wanted to be able to use it as a gaming rig. That requires being able to accommodate a powerful video card. Games on a big screen. Drool...

3. It must be QUIET, which is very subjective and depends upon location.

- In other words, I can tolerate more noise in the Living Room than I can in my Bedroom.

4. It must have a long life and be cost effective.

- I wanted the most bang for the buck, which for me means multiple uses, and expansion capability, while using the most current technology (for example: decent on-board video and audio, PCI-Express capability, bootable from SATA HD).

My first HTPC was an old P3 system with one fan, (CPU) and 385 MB of memory. I converted it for use in my Bedroom (replaced the CPU fan with a larger, quieter one, new HD, DVD CDROM, Wireless G via USB (Netgear), Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 250).

It's nearly silent, but I needed better software for time-shifting and pausing live TV. (My TIVO box spoiled me.) Despite my systems experience, I didn't want to mess with Myth or any non-commercial software, and after a few trials, decided on SageTV, because of its DVD, picture, music, and imported media interface, and audio/video streaming abilities.

However, the P3 system did not like running XP, and kept freezing. So, I decided to move my aging TIVO box (7+ years!) into the Bedroom and built an HTPC that could replace it. When SageTV came out with a Linux based version for the general public, I jumped on it! Turned the P3 into a very stable Linux SageTV server with the new HTPC as a client.

Current HTPC system (from Santa):

Aspire X-Qpack case with 420 W power supply (~$80) - Black/Silver, no window

ASUS A8N-VM CSM Socket 939 NVIDIA GeForce 6150 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard with TV-Out and SPDIF-Out ($88 - add $15 for TV-Out header, already had a SPDIF-Out header from a previous build)

AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Venice 1GHz HT 512KB L2 Cache Socket 939 Processor (~$285)

Kingston HyperX 2 X 512MB DDR 400 (bought used for $40!)

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD2500KS 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (~$100)

SONY Black 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE DVD-ROM Drive Model DDU1615/B2s (~$20) - picked 'cause it was short!

GO 2.4 Optical Air Mouse and Compact Keyboard Suite (~$100) - no remote required to interface with SageTV. These work up to 30' away, with no line of sight needed. These are needed for gaming and dealing with Windows as well. Since I don't play FPS games, response time/precision is not critical.

Quieter 1200 mm case fan (~$12)

Netgear Wireless G USB adapter (moved from P3 system)

Sweet! The only downside of this setup is the P3 isn't powerful enough to do SW decoding *and* streaming at the same time (the Hauppauge card uses HW decoding for captured TV files), so I have to move other video source files, (avi, divx, etc.) to the HTPC to view, or the video stream stutters. I can access local video files via the SageTV client interface, so I rarely have to deal with Windows. Even with the HTPC in a cabinet, after watching a DVD, the temps are only around 45 C. Guess I did okay!

Next, I plan to get an Epson PowerLite Cinema 550 (~$2500) HT projector, build an 83" 16X9 DIY screen (no room for a bigger one -wah!), install a GeForce 7900GT (for gaming), replace the stock CPU heatsink/fan with a quieter one, purchase a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 (dual tuner), and move the SageTV Server to my 2 year old P4 system...

If you don't need a DVD player, a quiet and cheaper set up than the PC described in this article would be a SageTV Media Center ($80) server (Windows or Linux) with a SageTV Media Extender ($99). The Media Extender is basically a Hauppauge MVP with SageTV Client bundled.

Great article! It should get you thinking about what you want and need, and hopefully researching the best way to get there - for you.
April 8, 2006 12:32:19 AM

Quote:
Another amateur HTPC article from Tom's Hardware... Why would you even consider putting a software MPEG tuner like the AIW in an HTPC?? Windows MCE does not list the AIW or any other software card as an approved tuner. Using a hardware card would also reduce your CPU utilization and lower your temps. For real information about building a HTPC go to HTPCNews.com.


Hmm I smell another Nvidia marketing forum troll.
April 8, 2006 12:47:51 AM

Quote:
Another amateur HTPC article from Tom's Hardware... Why would you even consider putting a software MPEG tuner like the AIW in an HTPC?? Windows MCE does not list the AIW or any other software card as an approved tuner. Using a hardware card would also reduce your CPU utilization and lower your temps. For real information about building a HTPC go to HTPCNews.com.


Hmm I smell another Nvidia marketing forum troll.

Nvidia marketing troll?? Where in my post did i mention Nvidia. Although I bashed the AIW, I did not say anything bad about ATI. In fact, ATI has arguably the best hardware (and therefore overall) tuner on the market in their Theater 550 based cards. Nvidia's first attempt at a tuner was rather disappointing. Nvidia did release a new card on the 5th that looks promising, but because it was released only two days ago I do not have any experience with it and cannot comment on its performance.

To summarize this and my previous post: If you are serious about building a REAL HTPC you will use a hardware encoder (Hauppauge, ATI, Avermedia, Nvidia, etc. ).
April 8, 2006 2:49:02 AM

I agree with this assssment. Why waste readers and potential HTPC users time with this exercise? Tom's is just playing with folks, jerking them around, with this foolish endeavor.

The author and builder of this machine should definitely have advised readers about the software encoder used in AIW cards and why software encoding TV tuners are undesirable in a Windows Media Center 2005 system.

However, I will add that ATI has designed the AIW cards and drivers to work in Windows Media Center 2005 and ATI officially supports AIW use in WMCE. Only AIW cards since the AIW 9600 are supported, however, so Tom's was probably lucky when it chose the AIW 9600.

Lastly, trying to build a HTPC with spare pc parts and cheap pc parts is the wrong approach. You will get what pay for with poor and erratic performance. After all, you will be processing video files, the largest and most difficult kind of files that a computer can process. You need a machine that is a heavy lifter.

Accordingly, you should design your HTPC system as a high performance machine and use the better parts. You won't regret it.
April 8, 2006 3:05:56 AM

I hope MSI has stopped making the Mega 180. I purchased one a few years back when it first came out. I thought it was the coolest thing when I first got it. As I came to find out it was the hottest thing....literally. I couldn't believe how hot the processor got with just simple activity.

Not only is it "Hot"...its also magical...my modem often disappears from the device manager.....where the heck did it go? I have to unplug the pc so the modem will be detected again and the driver will reinstall.....thats jacked (no jokes about modem use please..I use it at work and sneak on through the fax line)

I'm ready to ditch this sucker as soon as I get a chance. Maybe I can use it during the winter as a floor heater or something.

Keep up the great articles!!!!!!!!!!
April 8, 2006 9:33:32 AM

Quote:

I couldn't agree more. cube style cases don't look right with standard AV equipment. They're a little better than a tower, but if you really want to have an HTPC that seamlessly nestles into your home theater, you're going to want a more traditional AV sized case. Some of my favorites are the Ahanix 'D series' cases and some of the Silverstone cases. There's also one by Zalman called the HD160 that looks really promising. (at the very least, you can be sure that a zalman cooler will fit in it. :D  )


Yeah. I just recently purchased a Silverstone LC11, and a mATX board with the nvidia 6150 gpu which can actually take some load off the processor by decoding HD-formats directly. And I've also got the silverstone copper heatsink for the cpu, which still hasnt run too warm (athlon64 3200+), approximately at 53 degrees celsius under stress.

I'm so happy with the silverstone case, since it's only about 10cm high, but it has got three expansion slots (riser card was included) for PCI-cards. It will suit my need for dual DVB-tuner cards. One of the slots goes to the spdif-bracket from the motherboard.
April 8, 2006 3:27:56 PM

Quote:
Not only is it "Hot"...its also magical...my modem often disappears from the device manager.....where the heck did it go? I have to unplug the pc so the modem will be detected again and the driver will reinstall.....thats jacked (no jokes about modem use please..I use it at work and sneak on through the fax line)


Ha! That's funny. For me it was the onboard sound. One boot it was working fine, the next boot... Sound hardware? What sound hardware? :lol:  I like the space heater ides though. It's not good for much else to me.

Quote:
Yeah. I just recently purchased a Silverstone LC11, and a mATX board with the nvidia 6150 gpu which can actually take some load off the processor by decoding HD-formats directly. And I've also got the silverstone copper heatsink for the cpu, which still hasnt run too warm (athlon64 3200+), approximately at 53 degrees celsius under stress.


The LC11 was actually a contender for my current HTPC. It's a really nice looking case, but I had been burned (literally) by the MEGA 180 and in the end, I couldn't bring myself to risk another SFF style case. (I ended up with the LC16) I'm glad to hear that it cools well though. 53 is not bad at all compared to my MEGA 180 experience. :roll: I tried hard to get a 6150 mobo for my build as well. There were so many delays with it at the time that I had to give up on it though. Darn delays.

Quote:
However, I will add that ATI has designed the AIW cards and drivers to work in Windows Media Center 2005 and ATI officially supports AIW use in WMCE. Only AIW cards since the AIW 9600 are supported, however, so Tom's was probably lucky when it chose the AIW 9600.


Man, the AIW 9600 was a beating to get working in MCE 2005. It's support at the time of my build was limited to propriety drivers that were released on an individual basis by MCE computer manufacturers. I had hoped that since ATI9600 cards could work on MCE that ATI would expand their support for them. It took a very long time though. In the mean time, I ended up using some hacked drivers that a guy named Kram released. Even then it was rough and I was forced to have ATI's MMC software running in the background. :roll:

Quote:
Lastly, trying to build a HTPC with spare pc parts and cheap pc parts is the wrong approach. You will get what pay for with poor and erratic performance. After all, you will be processing video files, the largest and most difficult kind of files that a computer can process. You need a machine that is a heavy lifter.


I agree that a heavy lifter is preferable to a poky old box. My spare-parts rig had value for me in since it got me interested in HTPCs. There's no way I'd be satisfied with that old beater now, but it was an important step on my path to building a better HTPC. I'd advise any potential builders that unless it's going to be a backend media server, be really careful about heat and noise with a more powerful computer. Cool and quiet operation is very possible with a powerful computer, but it can be a challenge.
April 8, 2006 4:18:34 PM

BruxBox and brdhse1

First, thanks for sharing your opinions and experiences.

The purpose of this series is to show what Mike learned by building a series of HTPCs. He's obviously not trying to show how to build an HTPC today, since many of the components he used are obviously old.

This has been interesting to many readers, but it appears, not so much to you. I guess that I should warn you that our HTPC coverage will attempt to show that there are many approaches, each with their pluses and minuses. We hope to explore as many approaches as possible, not just the usual approach of building the "ultimate" HTPC.

BTW, I (and I'm sure Mike) agree that hardware MPEG processing is the way to go today, especially for HD.

Thanks again for your posts.
April 9, 2006 11:31:45 AM

06.04.09
This htpc is bogus for gaming, @ 2300 PCMark 05, you realize gaming PC are in the 13k to 7k range.
And rack mount stereo components are 17" across, are you intending with this small htpc to replace tuner and amp-pre amp components, if so a measure of it's 5.1 or 7.1 audio output is a significant factor in "home entertainment" usage, is it going to output THX or DTS quality audio? This small form factor seems valid in a dormitory room, but for a 2 or 4 bedroom residence?
And no mention of HDTV, the future is high def TV viewing, is your MCE 'htpc' just to listen to FM, play DVD and watch analog broadcast/cable TV... ? output to what 800x600res ?!!

Getting real, a high current discrete 7.1 Amp matched to a 17" htpc case, that can hold two or three 300GBish sata2 hd (DVRstorage,) a near 3GHz cpu and an AIW gpu like the AIW Radeon x1900 for gaming (or x1800XL less hot but still AIW & gaming.) If heat & power consumption is your criteria, try laptop Pentium M cpu. A dual gpu high performance gaming PC puts out heat especially one able to post 1600x1200 res full AA & AS, that is why we have to spend a fortune finding a (LCD or plasma) display able to utalize 1920x1080 (1080i for HDTV- home entertainment consideration vs DVD's 720x480 or HD720p 1280x720 res.)
btw, do not think ANY gpu tuners nor dual tuner (picture in picture) do 1080 HDTV yet.
April 9, 2006 5:00:05 PM

Quote:
This htpc is bogus for gaming, @ 2300 PCMark 05, you realize gaming PC are in the 13k to 7k range.
And rack mount stereo components are 17" across, are you intending with this small htpc to replace tuner and amp-pre amp components, if so a measure of it's 5.1 or 7.1 audio output is a significant factor in "home entertainment" usage, is it going to output THX or DTS quality audio? This small form factor seems valid in a dormitory room, but for a 2 or 4 bedroom residence?
And no mention of HDTV, the future is high def TV viewing, is your MCE 'htpc' just to listen to FM, play DVD and watch analog broadcast/cable TV... ? output to what 800x600res ?!!


Thanks for your comments Bug. Keep in mind that the system in Part II was built over 2 years ago which was a time when most of us were using 9800 pros for gaming. At the time, the 9600 was not the poor performer that it would be today. As Tim said, this series of articles is not intended to cover the ultimate HTPC build. Their purpose is to go over the lessons that I was able to learn through building these HTPCs over a span of several years. Watch for part 3 which will cover my most current HTPC (built last November)

It's clear that you have a good idea of exactly what you want in an HTPC If you haven't already built it, I hope it goes well.
April 9, 2006 11:31:47 PM

Greetings from a hardcore native of Silicon Valley.

Generally, posting in these “slashdot” type forums is like joining a pissing contest in a wind tunnel. Here goes anyway.

Despite the efforts of mass market HTPC “leaders” Sony, HP, and Niveus Media (pretty cool box) to create a user friendly appliance, at this point in time the HTPC remains in the realm of the geeks. The amount of configuration and administration precludes civilians. Especially is you go linux.

I think the building "perfect" HTPC is an extremely subjective concept. That said, I also think you can build a box that would qualify as “best of breed” for most users, regardless of their ability to appreciate subtle differences in design, build or performance.

Of course, after many attempts, going back many years, with many products, I have built “perfection”, subjective as it is.

I’m not gonna list parts or software or anything else I’m running

I’m not here to be a “fanboi” for any technology or product. I either run, have run, or will run, it all. You want a current parts list of what I think is the best you can do? Email me, and I might decide to share.
.
I am here to try to increase the signal to noise ratio.

Regarding comments in this thread:



Quote:
“Thiggins: Is smaller really better when it comes to building HTPC's?”


NO.


Quote:
“Tetradies: Covered many pitfalls that I hadn't really thought about.”


Dude, deep thinking is pretty important when designing a computer system.


Quote:
"C4onastick:I think that a small form factor is essential to the HTPC. I have always thought that the Hiper Media Chasis (Reviewed by Tom's earlier) would be a great case. Only one expansion slot though..."


Clueless.


Quote:
"Albert_II: The major flaw in this article is picking a cube-shaped case for a HTPC-system. The width standard for any hifi-equipment is 43cm, so I would really go with a case that meets that standard. That way the case is more easily placed ie. above the AV-receiver. Also its cooling performance is better and components more easily installed."


Ahh, someone with a clue…


Quote:
"Brdhse1: Another amateur HTPC article from Tom's Hardware... Why would you even consider putting a software MPEG tuner like the AIW in an HTPC?? Windows MCE does not list the AIW or any other software card as an approved tuner. Using a hardware card would also reduce your CPU utilization and lower your temps. For real information about building a HTPC go to HTPCNews.com."


Arrogant person who did not bother to take the article in context. Actually Tom’s stuff is generally pretty good. Brdhse1 ‘s comments are generally correct, but erodes his points by schilling for HTPCnews (decent site)


Peggysis makes some good points initially, then gets kinda clueless, then makes some good points again

Not clueless:
Quote:
"The case must be able to accommodate the HW you want, so the final system is capable of running the software you want.

It must be QUIET, which is very subjective and depends upon location.

Epson PowerLite Cinema 550"


Clueless:
Quote:
"My first HTPC was an old P3 system with one fan, (CPU) and 385 MB of memory. I converted it for use in my Bedroom (replaced the CPU fan with a larger, quieter one, new HD, DVD CDROM, Wireless G via USB (Netgear), Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 250).

Aspire X-Qpack case with 420 W power supply (~$80) - Black/Silver, no window

Netgear Wireless G USB adapter"



Quote:
"Brdhse1: Nvidia marketing troll?? Where in my post did i mention Nvidia. Although I bashed the AIW, I did not say anything bad about ATI. In fact, ATI has arguably the best hardware (and therefore overall) tuner on the market in their Theater 550 based cards. Nvidia's first attempt at a tuner was rather disappointing. Nvidia did release a new card on the 5th that looks promising, but because it was released only two days ago I do not have any experience with it and cannot comment on its performance.

To summarize this and my previous post: If you are serious about building a REAL HTPC you will use a hardware encoder (Hauppauge, ATI, Avermedia, Nvidia, etc. )"


Brdhse1 is on the money once again, but needs to work on diplomacy skills…


Quote:
"Brubox: I agree with this assssment. Why waste readers and potential HTPC users time with this exercise? Tom's is just playing with folks, jerking them around, with this foolish endeavor.

The author and builder of this machine should definitely have advised readers about the software encoder used in AIW cards and why software encoding TV tuners are undesirable in a Windows Media Center 2005 system.

However, I will add that ATI has designed the AIW cards and drivers to work in Windows Media Center 2005 and ATI officially supports AIW use in WMCE. Only AIW cards since the AIW 9600 are supported, however, so Tom's was probably lucky when it chose the AIW 9600.

Lastly, trying to build a HTPC with spare pc parts and cheap pc parts is the wrong approach. You will get what pay for with poor and erratic performance. After all, you will be processing video files, the largest and most difficult kind of files that a computer can process. You need a machine that is a heavy lifter.

Accordingly, you should design your HTPC system as a high performance machine and use the better parts. You won't regret it."



Brubox is another guy who makes comments without paying attention to the context of the article. However, technically right on the money, knows exactly what he is saying.


Quote:
"Cpbiceman:I hope MSI has stopped making the Mega 180. I purchased one a few years back when it first came out. I thought it was the coolest thing when I first got it. As I came to find out it was the hottest thing....literally. I couldn't believe how hot the processor got with just simple activity."


Duh, the MSI M180 is totally inappropriate, along with most SFF cases.


Quote:
"Albert_II: Yeah. I just recently purchased a Silverstone LC11, and a mATX board with the nvidia 6150 gpu which can actually take some load off the processor by decoding HD-formats directly. And I've also got the silverstone copper heatsink for the cpu, which still hasnt run too warm (athlon64 3200+), approximately at 53 degrees celsius under stress.

I'm so happy with the silverstone case, since it's only about 10cm high, but it has got three expansion slots (riser card was included) for PCI-cards. It will suit my need for dual DVB-tuner cards. One of the slots goes to the spdif-bracket from the motherboard."


Silverstone - good choices. Integrated video is a compromise at best. Who cares what temp the CPU is at, as long as noise and performance are in line. Get a life and find something else to worry about.


Quote:
"Thiggins:BruxBox and brdhse1

First, thanks for sharing your opinions and experiences.

The purpose of this series is to show what Mike learned by building a series of HTPCs. He's obviously not trying to show how to build an HTPC today, since many of the components he used are obviously old.

This has been interesting to many readers, but it appears, not so much to you. I guess that I should warn you that our HTPC coverage will attempt to show that there are many approaches, each with their pluses and minuses. We hope to explore as many approaches as possible, not just the usual approach of building the "ultimate" HTPC.

BTW, I (and I'm sure Mike) agree that hardware MPEG processing is the way to go today, especially for HD.

Thanks again for your posts."


That’s tellin’ em. Obviously it was an article on the journey, not the destination.


Quote:
"BUG: This htpc is bogus for gaming, @ 2300 PCMark 05, you realize gaming PC are in the 13k to 7k range.
And rack mount stereo components are 17" across, are you intending with this small htpc to replace tuner and amp-pre amp components, if so a measure of it's 5.1 or 7.1 audio output is a significant factor in "home entertainment" usage, is it going to output THX or DTS quality audio? This small form factor seems valid in a dormitory room, but for a 2 or 4 bedroom residence?
And no mention of HDTV, the future is high def TV viewing, is your MCE 'htpc' just to listen to FM, play DVD and watch analog broadcast/cable TV... ? output to what 800x600res ?!!

Getting real, a high current discrete 7.1 Amp matched to a 17" htpc case, that can hold two or three 300GBish sata2 hd (DVRstorage,) a near 3GHz cpu and an AIW gpu like the AIW Radeon x1900 for gaming (or x1800XL less hot but still AIW & gaming.) If heat & power consumption is your criteria, try laptop Pentium M cpu. A dual gpu high performance gaming PC puts out heat especially one able to post 1600x1200 res full AA & AS, that is why we have to spend a fortune finding a (LCD or plasma) display able to utalize 1920x1080 (1080i for HDTV- home entertainment consideration vs DVD's 720x480 or HD720p 1280x720 res.)
btw, do not think ANY gpu tuners nor dual tuner (picture in picture) do 1080 HDTV yet."
[/quote]

Right on the money. Technically competent and educated.


Mike, I’m looking forward to reading part III. It will be interesting to see if we reached any of the same conclusions.
April 10, 2006 12:51:11 AM

I'm backed up. I was bit too hasty with my original comments, as I didn't appreciate the goals of the different articles.

I think that the "Home Theater PC" label is misleading and inaccurate with respect to some of the systems that folks are putting together these days. HTPC draws an image of a couch potato in the living room sharing a wide screen TV powered by a component looking personal computer that delivers audio and video to the family.

Let's change the venue and the system being used. Instead of being in the living room, this image changes if the box is used by a single person in a room of his or her own. In addition to running regular productivity applications like an office suite and a web browser, suppose that this other kind of personal computer uses a recent graphics card powerful enough to run the latest pc games quite well.

Furthermore, the wide screen high definition panel has the following connected to it: a game console or two; a DVD player; a VCR; and a digital video recorder. Plus, all the audio from these devices are run through a AV box that also performs video upconversion.

In addition, suppose also this user is fairly competent at PhotoShop and Adobe Premier because he or she frequently produces output from a digital camera and a miniDV camcorder, necessitating that this personal computer be capable of processing these digital files very, very quickly and competently. It may be that there is a dual core cpu and 2GB of memory inside this system, for heavy lifting and multitasking are required capabilities of this extraordinary personal computer.

Now, we're talking about something far removed from a home theater PC. Surely, HTPC is inadequate to describe this computer.

It might properly be classified as a super personal computer.
April 10, 2006 8:57:41 PM

While I read this article I was either nodding my head in agreement because I've been there too or laughing myself silly because Michael's a good writer. I'm looking forward to Part 3.

Michael Baggaley's story of his second HTPC build is entertaining and informative. I'm also a serial HTPC builder (3 in that last two years.) It is addictive because it's a puzzle that you can never quite solve to your complete satisfaction if you're a perfectionist. There is an art to making an HTPC attractive, quiet and not belch Artic Silver smoke while attempting to be quiet and attractive.

Building a gaming rig is quite easy in comparison. In my opinion to make an HTPC perform as a frag-box you'd need a machine with dual modes, b/c the heat issue is just too difficult to deal with without exceeded acceptable living room decibels. If you doubt that try blocking your 120mm exhaust and substitute 2 undervolted 60mm fans which is more typical of an HTPC case.

GNMorley, thanks for the reality check. Some of these alpha-geeks can get revved up pretty easily. Gees it's just a friendly article about an HTPC, not an opinion on whether to nuke Iran. :roll:

CDDN
April 10, 2006 11:02:52 PM

Quote:
Mike, I’m looking forward to reading part III. It will be interesting to see if we reached any of the same conclusions.


Thanks! It seems to me that HTPCs are anyone's game at the moment. As a veteran gaming PC builder it has always been about the most power that you can pack into a box with the budget that you have for me. Now as I build my HTPCs my motivation has changed to finding that delicate balance between heat management, aesthetics and, noise control while still trying to put enough power in there to get the job done. I look forward to hearing your views when I finish part III.

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I'm backed up. I was bit too hasty with my original comments, as I didn't appreciate the goals of the different articles.


No sweat Bruxbox. It's nice to see people who are passionate about these types of PCs. I agree that the HTPC is versatile enough to be used in any number of entertainment systems from a dorm room, to a living room to a vehicle. (I have tentative plans to try to rig up an HTPC extender in my Mustang. The only thing keeping me from doing it is the near certainty that I will ruin something in the process.) :lol: 


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While I read this article I was either nodding my head in agreement because I've been there too or laughing myself silly


Thanks CDDN. I still can't believe that I made some of the more glaring mistakes that I did during those first builds. Live and learn I suppose. 8)

You're right. It's a never ending journey if you're looking for HTPC perfection. I love the rig that I have, but even now there's a long list of things that I'd do differently if I had it to do again. ...Then again I will do it again, so it's only a matter of time. :lol:  At the moment I'm bugged that I can hear my drives spinning. They were drowned out by the case fans before, so I didn't realize that they were making much noise until I made everything else quiet. Sigh - back to the drawing board.
April 11, 2006 2:10:43 AM

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You're right. It's a never ending journey if you're looking for HTPC perfection. I love the rig that I have, but even now there's a long list of things that I'd do differently if I had it to do again


Hehe, maybe in part III you should mention that it's not wise to put the case screws in if you don't have to. You gotta get under the hood too much! :lol: 
April 13, 2006 3:29:56 PM

Let me tell you one thing about HDDs especially those normal 3.5' HDDs. After you run them for one or two years, they will start to get noisy. The 1st time you use these disks they are very silent, as if they were off. After time goes by the motor will start to generate those little hums, the heads will start to get more chirpy, and eventually, they will be noisy enough for you to notice it.

I had two 3.5' HDDs, one IBM 40GB and one WD 160GB, all 7200RPM, all having those "fluid bearing technology". The first time you use them you won't notice they were on. Two years after, they start to make their appearence known. Their heads were chirping, the hums from the motors, etc.

For a slient HTPC i would choose a 2.5' notebook HDD. Their low 5400 RPM means they are quiet, very quiet. I bought my laptop for more than 2 years, and the Samsung 40GB 5400RPM HDD in my laptop still is as slient as ever.

If you do not not need those huge disk space the 3.5' HDDs offer, then go for the 2.5' notebook HDDs. They are quite spacious, at 160GB from seagate, and they run slient. Plus the heat genersted is lower than 3.5' HDD. But one things is they are expensive... ...
April 17, 2006 5:59:15 AM

Just a couple of suggestions:

In order to minimize heat and seperate content away from the htpc, we suggest going for an external HDD setup (network, USB, or external SATA). This means that you can afford to utilise a cheaper, smaller capacity HDD in the HTPC, while gaining the added advantage of being able to hide away the main storage device and being able to seperate it from the main HTPC for backup purposes if the HTPC fails for whatever reason.

It would be great if you could cover an up market setup with a top end Logitech remote, MCE, and slightly larger case. Lounge rooms are typically larger than say an office setup, so space shouldn't be the first consideration, but rather a horizontal form factor.

Good work with the articles.

Look forward to the next.

-Zac Zarev
Vortel Advanced Systems
http://vortel.com.au
April 27, 2006 8:35:15 PM

After reading up almost 2 years ago I decided on the hauppauge pvr250 card. Whats amazing is that 1 decision has cleared away almost any other problem I could have. I tried gb-pvr with my 250 but it was just too unstable and the interface was a little slow. I tried the demo of beyondtv and sage and both were excellent even on my celeron600. I was out of money for software so decided to move my pvr250 card to my amd 2200+ and try gb-pvr again. It was still not trustworthy. I couldn't rely on it to record anything if I didn't babysit it. When beyondtv went on sale for $50 I jumped on it and its been amazing. I can go on vacation for 2 weeks and come back to 100+ gigs of tv to weed through. I have 2 friends that went with AIW cards and still have problems.
The only real primo part in the PC is the hauppauge capture card. I got the $70 fry's MB combo, the cheapest DX9 nv 5200 graphics card in a cheap case. This is my main PC. I record tv, watch recorded tv, defrag the HD, d/l bittorrents, master and burn dvds all while I browse the internet. At the same time. I'm not bragging. I just want to let people know you don't need a X2 4400 to do a workable htpc. A hardware capture card uses less than 6% of my cpu. When I finally got a good benq dvd burner I found I could do it all at once. Works so well I'm afraid to change anything now even though I have a ghost image of it. Just passing on what works for me.
May 6, 2006 9:43:39 AM

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Is smaller really better when it comes to building HTPC's?


It's not simply better. Actually it's kind of The Must.
May 6, 2006 10:23:34 AM

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In order to minimize heat and seperate content away from the htpc, we suggest going for an external HDD setup (network, USB, or external SATA).

Agreed. Except that I'd personally _never_ use USB. 5V*500mA is really laughable. FireWire is much better designed and can provide up to 45!!! watts. POE is also an option (15.4 watts) but AFAIK at the moment there are no any POE-powered NAS/AoE devices/convertors in the market.

Personally, I'd use some slim barebone case (like the one used in e.g. ASUS DiGiMatrix) to hold MB/CPU/RAM/DVB/TV/DVI/slim DVDRW/NAND boot drive/whatever else and host HDD separately -- in form of external FireWire RAID (in close proximity of HTPC, probably powered from HTPC's PS/FW).

Also I noticed the moderator's point about using HW based MPEG2 decoder/encoder -- it's definitely very good option. This way you may offload a lot of CPU resources especially if CPU is ARM ;)  and e.g. record satellite TV while watching DVD...
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Good work with the articles.

My kudos to the article's author too. It's fun to see anyone caring about building HTPC. I hope to present my vision too, and convince at least some one towards using better/superior technology like ARM/PPC vs. x86, or FireWire over USB, Linux/BSD/L4/HURD over Windoze and so on.

BTW, WRT author's intention to build Dream box -- http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreambox ;) 
May 12, 2006 7:03:20 PM

Where is part 3? Been over a month, the articles are great, but the first two cover everything I've already learned not to do, getting ready to try my third attempt at an HTPC, and I really want to know which route he goes.

Sold off the parts to my last one, it was too loud (XP3200), the AIW 9800, software just sucks (i can stand some CPU loading, just give me a decent GUI!), and my wife wouldn't stand for having a monitor next to the TV just for setup. Now that LCD's have come down I think it's time to try again.

I'm thinking of an Athlon 64 3000, with a custom built case. Being an ME, I think I can get the cooling system pretty quiet in a solid wood cabinet with a large, slow fan. TV won't happen till Xmas, but summer is plenty of development time. Really did like having an RF remote (even though the consruction felt cheap), anyone know of alternate RF remote? Most seem to be IR which is fine for movies, but I need to change music while I'm wandering around.
May 12, 2006 7:49:23 PM

Sorry about that. I've had Mike busy writing some other articles.

Part 3 will be up next week.
June 3, 2006 8:24:04 PM

I've just built a mega 865 (msi) and I love it. It's one week old. I used the p4 system and it seems to run cooler. I own athlon & p4 systems and I love the Athlon, but I've burned up 3 of them due to bad cooling or blown power supplies (usually a cap explodes in the PSU) so I wouldn't recommend for a HTPC.

I'm using the ac97 sound and installed 2 cards, an ATI tv wonder pro (pci) and a ATI agp graphics card (well a taiwan knock off w/ati chipset) and it works dandy! No over heating problems, the only time the fans kick into hight speed mode is when I boot, I guess it does this to purge the air in the case.

I like the ATI MMC 8.9 which I'm using on another computer as well. I'm still trying to figure out how to use the fm tuner in pc mode without running the MSI Theater software, anybody know how to do this?

(865 was $ 170.00 with shipping on ebay- barebones)
added p4 2.4 ghz, 1 gig ram, 1 200gb sata drive (all laying around the house) Using an AverKey 300 to transcode the vga signal to composite for tv watching. I know the other cards have tv output ports, but the AverKey has a great signal, and the zoom feature makes reading a pc screen on a TV monitor very easy. I also like the adjustable overscan which is great !
July 8, 2008 6:03:19 PM

HTPC does NOT have to be small in every build. Whichever fits your need while fits for your tv viewing purpose would do.

SIZE: in this case it does not matter. it could be a slim tower if that's all the space you can afford. it could be a flat-form desktop if you want to jam it under a shelf. it can nice a square if you have space to sit it on top. all in all pick out the one form that fits in with rest of your furniture the best.

USAGE: depends if you are a power-user or casual-user. some small-form pc can pack as much power(and heat) as some decent configs for extra quality gaming. while others will put in the most power saving components for casual web browsing/dvd/etc.

PURCHASING: know in's and out's before you buy up. i suggest you buy the mobo and cpu first and then find out if the video card you wanted can fit inside. one that most ppl have trouble with is the heatsink. i own a blue-gears small-form pc case and my thermalright low profile h.s. fits but the fan that was supposed to be attached on top did not. so if you want extra cooling or a certain direction of airflow for efficient cooling then a 'mod' is a must.

POWERSUPPLY: get a modular PSU. with the exception of a 450w or less PSU for casual configs. it's the only way to maximize the space inside for the hot air to pass through. PSU's w/ 2 fans preferred. DONT get a 750w or 900w as it would be an overkill for these type of config. (my own htpc houses a Corsair 520w modular which is more than enough to power an E8400/8800GT/2gbRAM/2xSATAIIhdd/DVDburner/4xFANS/2xlights)

NOISE LVL: HTPC can be cheap OR moderately expensive. not only due to its level of usage but many people preferred its level of noise as well. given the fact that the case is small and thin while housing smaller fans can be a huge factor when it comes to noise. smaller fans are generally noisier unless you are upgrade them to the high quality ones which can cost and upward of $15 per fan! while other components can have rubbery noise reduction screw rings installed (such as hdd's). there are also noise reduction pads that can be bought and taped inside the wall of the case for a much better noise concealing effect. so when making choices on purchasing components on your HTPC keep the quiet quality in mind.

HTPC (casual-performance):
CPU: Intel E7200 $130
MOBO: ASUS P5E-VM HDMI Micro ATX $130
RAM: 2GB G-SKILL DDR2 800 $45
VIDEO: (onboard) ---
PSU: SILVERSTONE ST400 400W $47
HDD: Seagate SATAII 250gb $60
DVD: Samsung 20x DVD burner $25
H.S.: (depends on case) $20-50
FAN: (depends on case) $15-35
CASE: (your choice) $50-120
total: $520-640

HTPC (casual-budget):
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ $60
MOBO: BIOSTAR TFORCE TA780G $80
RAM: 2GB G-SKILL DDR2 800 $45
VIDEO: ATI HD3400 $50
PSU: SILVERSTONE ST400 400W $47
HDD: Seagate SATAII 250gb $60
DVD: Samsung 20x DVD burner $25
H.S.: (depends on case) $20-50
FAN: (depends on case) $15-35
CASE: (your choice) $50-120
total: $450-570

HTPC (gaming):
CPU: E8400 $190
MOBO: ASUS P5E-VM HDMI Micro ATX $130
RAM: 4GB G-SKILL DDR2 800 $90
VIDEO: ATI HD4850 $170
PSU: Corsair HX520W Modular $100
HDD: 2x Seagate SATAII 250gb $120
DVD: Samsung 20x DVD burner $25
H.S.: (depends on case) $40-70
FAN: (depends on case) $25-50
CASE: (your choice) $80-120
total: $970-1070

all cost are based on newegg, there are ways that you can greatly reduce the price by means of ebay. :)  gl.

b

!