Building a HTPC - Need Advice

Hello ... I am an 'old school' gal with no techie background. Got interested in building my own HTPC and need some advice.

Ques: the only thing I ever built was a swing in my backyard, can I follow the instructions/advice/lessons found on various websites and actually build a working trouble-free HTPC?

If so, here's what I am looking for in a HTPC - Please share your advice on components to use for my project as well as their pros and cons.

Must be attractive to look at (sitting next to or under the TV).
Low power consumption/ low or no noise.
Watch TV, DVD & Blu-ray
Blu-ray, DVD & CD writer
DVR
Play CD, MP3, IPod
HDMI, RCA & USB connections
Connect and play my camcorder storage
Connect and show my digital camera
Audio out to a 5.1 Surround Sound speaker system with power & quality comparable or better than a A/V Rec.
(Do I need a A/V Rec?)
HD 1080p/1080i/760p
Wireless to home network
Surf the web
Keyboard & Remote functions


I have a Sony 40" Bravia LED TV, a Energy 5.1 Mini Speaker system & OTA Antenna.
Do not plan to get or use cable or satellite TV.
Cost is not a problem ....
Should not have to upgrade any time soon.


For components:- Please help. What will I need and/or what should I get?
Motherboard
CPU
Case
Fan(s)
Power
RAM
HD
Graphic Card
Sound Card
Wireless card
TV Tuner
OS
BlueTooth
Keyboard & Mouse
Remote


Putting it all together is for another forum I guess:-)

Thanks.
25 answers Last reply
More about building htpc advice
  1. You definitely want a quad core processor, you definitely want a board with a PCIe 16X video card, not onboard video.
    I will pass on the rest of the recommendations soon.
  2. Thank you for your input ...... waiting for more from you.
  3. Hi girlfriday, you would be better served posting your request in the new build forum located here: NEW BUILD
    Check out the read before posting stickie at the top of the forum. There is lots of helpful information there along with a suggested format/template to use when asking for advice.

    I think you can build the HTPC. There are some loops that motherboard and case manufacturers can throw at you but building is the easy part. Use common sense and if something really doesn't make sense then post your problem in the forum. Drivers and updates and compatibility will always ensure that you will tweak and tweak so I don't think you will ever be trouble free. Be forewarned....The HTPC will become a hobby/addiction. LOL. It has for me. I went from a simple HTPC to store our DVD's on and now I have a server that I had to build that is pushing 5TB almost full. I have become like a crack addict for hard drives. NEED MORE.
    Good luck.
  4. Thanks Supe,

    I'll post to the New Build forum.
    I am certainly gonna try to build my own pc; it's really a challenging idea for me.

    See you.
  5. It's very cool to build your own, and you will never want to buy a pre made computer again.
  6. LG Bluray drive is the way to go
  7. See Below:
  8. girlfriday said:
    Thank you for your input ...... waiting for more from you.


    Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W Power Supply Shipping $ 8.53
    Reason: efficient PCM design cuts power consumption and heat by 33%. $78.99
    Note: 500 watt power will run this system, if the supply is rated continuous true power.

    Gigabyte 890FX/SATA3&USB3.0/A&2GbE/ATX Motherboard GA-890FXA-UD5
    Note: You want a motherboard with video card instead of onboard video, uses less system resources to maintain system speed. 1GB DDR5 video card memory minimum recommended.
    Reason: PCIe 16X video support, advanced chipset, reliable manufacturer $179.99 Shipping $ 7.19

    LG Electronics 10X Blu-ray SATA Writer Drive with Software WH10LS30K - Bulk (Black)
    Reason: Highly rated, reasonable price, higher writing speed. $128.49 Shipping $5.49

    Cmple HDMI Cable, 30 feet $ 9.49 Shipping $5.49
    Note: Very expensive HDMI cables are a waste of money. You should be able to buy a good long cable for about $10, that’s certified and tested. Limit HDMI cable to 50 feet maximum.

    Logitech Internet 350 USB Desktop Keyboard and Mouse $ 22.99 Shipping free

    Hauppauge 1183 WinTV HVR-1600 Internal PCI Dual TV Tuner/Video Recorder Media Center Kit $99.24 Shipping $8.68
    Reason: Highly rated dual input HDTV, NTSC, FM tuner with S video/audio inputs.
    Note: It is recommended to use Windows Media Center instead of the supplied software, just load the drivers from the CD.

    Windows 7 PRO 64 Bit System Builder 1pk $139.99 Shipping free
    Reason: Media Center included, much better quality resolution video compared to XP, more advanced record playback features. Drivers are from supplied manufacturer CD’s or manufacturer’s websites. This version does not contain many hardware drivers.

    Zalman ZM-MC1 Multi-connector PS to Add Fan $ 3.70 Shipping $6.88
    Reason: provide 5,7,12 volt breakout connectors to control fan speeds.

    2 X G.Skill Ripjaws F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL - Memory - 4 GB : 2 x 2 GB - DIMM 240-pin - DDR3 - 1600 MHz / PC3-12800 - CL9 - 1.5 V - unbuffered - non-ECC $229.96 Shipping $9.98
    Reason: Provide excellent high speed RAM for 64 bit operating system, video, audio, photo, film editing, photoshop, scanning, increased support.

    Antec Three Hundred Gaming Case External 3 X 5.25; Internal 6 X 3.5 2*Usb2.0
    $ 53.38 Shipping $36.10
    Reason: Better case will have plenty of high flow ventilation and spaces for fans. A standard “home theater” computer case will have very limited space and poor ventilation.

    Fan 3 Wire to 3 Wire Y Connector $ 2.39 Shipping $4.88
    Reason: split circuit for 2 cooling fans.

    Phenom II X4 965 Black AM3 3.4Ghz 512KB 45NM 125W $179.99
    NZXT CB-3F Sleeved 3-Pin Fan Extension Premium Cable $ 3.99
    RADEON HD 5870 1GB DDR5 HDMI Graphics Card HD587XZNFC 379.99 Shipping $6.54
    Reason: You will want the best HD graphics card, with HDMI output, for the highest resolution video quality, to interface to your HD wide screen TV. Dual output card allows hooking up computer monitor also.

    2 of: Zalman ZM-F3 120mm Quiet Case Fan with Silicone Pins 9.99 shipping free

    OEM Western Digital 74GB 10K VelociRaptor WD740HLFS $ 89.99 shipping 8.94
    Reason: Fastest available drive for operating system and programs only. Use additional 1 TB drive for video download files and office files.

    Computer Parts Totals 1602.57 108.70 SHIPPING PARTS

    Also recommended peripherals…

    Canon CanoScan 9000F Color Image Scanner $233.99 + 22.21 tax
    Note: Scans negatives, film, pictures, documents, 9600 X9600 dpi shipping was free

    Acer 24” WUXGA HD HDMI DVI VGA monitor $249.99
    Shipping free
  9. ***IMPORTANT***

    soundguruman is building you a high end gaming rig, not a HTPC. Can it do what a HTPC can do? Yes, but for hundreds of $$$ more, higher power consumption and more noise than need be.

    ***IMPORTANT***

    ============================================

    1. A quad core CPU is not necessary for a HTPC unless you plan on encoding your own video. For pure playback, a dual core will be more than enough; especially since a lot of the video playback will be offloaded to the video card (GPU).

    2. The HD 5870 is excessive for video playback. All you need is a low cost, low power HD 5570. See following article:

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/htpc-graphics-cards.html

    3. The Gigabyte 890FX motherboard is simply excessive for your needs. There is no reason to buy something that expensive.

    Everything else is more or less okay.


    girlfriday

    I will provide you with a list of alternate components (just the ones that should be changed). Please read the link to the article I provided above. Also note that the testbed is based on a HTPC built around an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 CPU which is certainly not the latest and greatest, but is also not very power hungry or expensive. The components are listed on page 5 of the article. See below for direct link:

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/htpc-graphics-cards_5.html#sect0
  10. This has nothing to do with games, games are the last concern of all.
    What is a concern is high speed and the best video resolution, for streaming audio video, record and playback of satellite and cable TV, Watching DVDs, surround sound, negatives, slides, pictures, photo editing, perhaps video editing, without becoming obsolete in the next 3 years.
    I would not dream of building a home theater system without a quad core processor. There is simply not enough headroom in a smaller processor for quality video playback, especially on a big screen TV.
    You can build a system for less, but I'm keeping the quad. The 5870? Highest rated card in the industry for under $400, and I'm looking forward to it.
    Games? No. Serious multimedia? Yes.
    Does the 5570 have support for direct X 11? No.
  11. soundguruman said:
    This has nothing to do with games, games are the last concern of all.
    What is a concern is high speed and the best video resolution, for streaming audio video, record and playback of satellite and cable TV, Watching DVDs, surround sound, negatives, slides, pictures, photo editing, perhaps video editing, without becoming obsolete in the next 3 years.


    Dude, pay attention to girlfriday's needs:

    1. Low power consumption/ low or no noise.
    2. Watch TV, DVD & Blu-ray

    Additionally, read the link to the article in my previous post regarding video playback quality:

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/htpc-graphics-cards.html

    Processing power for watching DVDs and Blu-Rays will not magically increase overnight.


    soundguruman said:
    I would not dream of building a home theater system without a quad core processor. There is simply not enough headroom in a smaller processor for quality video playback, especially on a big screen TV. You can build a system for less, but I'm keeping the quad.


    That's you, not her. Big screen means nothing, it is resolution that counts. A 32" 1080p HDTV has the same number of pixels as a 60" 1080p HDTV. Regardless of actual size, you are pushing the same number of pixels.


    soundguruman said:
    The 5870? Highest rated card in the industry for under $400, and I'm looking forward to it.
    Games? No. Serious multimedia? Yes.


    Dude, that's for you, not her. "Highest rated card in the industry for under $400..." Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? It is not necessary for simple video playback.

    soundguruman said:
    Does the 5570 have support for direct X 11? No.


    The entire HD 5xxx family supports DX11. Would I recommend a HD 5570 specifically for gaming? No. On top of that what does DirectX 11 have anything to with video playback? See AMD's specs for the HD 5570 and tell me DX11 is not supported (not that it really matters in this case):

    http://www.amd.com/us/products/desktop/graphics/ati-radeon-hd-5000/hd-5570/Pages/hd-5570-overview.aspx


    I know you are trying to help girlfriday, but your build is heavily slanted towards a pure gaming machine.
  12. +1 jaguarskx

    The OP has not said anything to warrant high end gaming gear but did request low power/noise and that the system fit in with the TV. A true HTPC case should be on the list.

    Other thoughts- yes, the HD5570 supports DirectX 11.
  13. Low power consumption? That's the most power efficient power supply AND the most power efficient board you can buy. Heard of AMD cool and quiet? It reduces the processor when the demand is low. The system saves 33% electricity compared to other systems.
    Watch TV, DVD and blu ray? This design handles cable,antenna, digital, or analog, and you can plug in an external player to boot. In fact it has an antenna switch, for two separate sources, in my case satellite and cable at the same time. And can I record one channel while watching another ? Yes. Does it record and play blu ray? Yes. Does it have 7.1 surround sound? Yes.
    Big screen means everything, because the same pixel on a smaller screen is ten times more noticeable on a bigger screen. The larger the screen, the more noticeable imperfections become. It's definitely not the same at all. The bigger the screen, the higher the quality must be, or it looks like doo-doo.
    If I was building a game machine, I would put big giant heat sinks on everything, overclock it, and turn the fans up high. This is opposite. Fans on low, stock heat sinks, never need to overclock because it's better than it needs to be for the application.
    In three years, everyone will want a computer this good, it will have to be, to keep up with the technology demand. The difference being that this design will not be obsolete in three years, or in five. And when everyone is buying a new computer, I will still be using this one, because it's ready for the future demand. And in 7 years, it will be old and obsolete.
    So build a computer that will be old in 3 years, I'm building this one for the next 7 years. It's not my problem that every high quality hardware component is built to appeal to gamers.
    Who's building to appeal to home theater enthusiasts? I mean with GOOD hardware? Answer: like nobody.
    The fact is, that the ideal home theater computer IS a gaming computer, with the fans on LOW, and a tuner card plugged in.
  14. rwpritchett said:
    +1 jaguarskx

    The OP has not said anything to warrant high end gaming gear but did request low power/noise and that the system fit in with the TV. A true HTPC case should be on the list.

    Other thoughts- yes, the HD5570 supports DirectX 11.


    A true HTPC case has about as much airflow as a car sitting in the sun with the windows rolled up. I can't live with that, give my CPU AIR.
  15. soundguruman said:

    The fact is, that the ideal home theater computer IS a gaming computer...


    I rest my case to the point I made before.
  16. Here’s my recommonation………

    CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 260 Regor 3.2GHz = $75 + Free Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103873
    Reason: Inexpensive, powerful enough for some not excessively demanding gaming if necessary, more than enough for video playback. It’s more powerful than the Intel E6600 in my HTPC which I use for HD playback, light video encoding (not the same as video capture) and serves as a backup gaming PC.

    Motherboard: ASUS M4A77TD AM3 AMD 770 = $85 before $15 mail-in rebate + Free Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131603
    Reason: Good user reviews, not excessively expensive, plenty of ports for expansion.

    Video Card: PowerColor Go! Green AX5570 1GBK3-NS3H Radeon HD 5570 = $90 + $7 Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814131349&cm_re=hd_5570-_-14-131-349-_-Product
    Reason: Not the least expensive HD 5570, but it is passively cooled so that means no fan for additional noise pollution. It uses very little power; about 25w max. Much less expensive than the HD 5870 ($380) which the other guy recommend. This is not a gaming card in today’s terms because of more demanding games, but it is as powerful as the slightly older HD 4670 which was considered a mainstream video card only a couple of years ago.

    RAM: CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 = $91 + $3 Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820145278
    Reason: I admit, I only use Corsair RAM; rock solid and reliable. There are other 4GB sets of RAM of the same speed selling for $10 less, but that extra $10 is worth the piece of mind. The RAM soundguruman recommended is most likely great for gaming, but at $230 before shipping, it is a bit excessive for an HTPC.


    Total Cost Savings compared to soundguruman’s recommendation is $629. That excludes any shipping charges and the $15 mail-in rebate for the motherboard.


    Other Suggestions….

    Power Supply: SeaSonic S12II 520 Bronze 520W = $70 + $10 Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151094
    Reason: Okay, this is only a few $$ less expensive than the recommended 650w Antec PSU. Why do I recommend this PSU especially since it is “only” 520w? Seasonic is a premier manufacturer which means high quality and reliability. I only use Seasonic PSUs. They also build PSUs certain models for other brand names like the recommended Antec EarthWatts 650w, Corsair, and PC Power & Cooling. I prefer a Seasonic PSU which they sell themselves over a PSU they make for brand names. Hey, that's my quirk...


    Regarding a case….

    This is more of personal taste and it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Therefore, I will not recommend you a case. The HTPC case I bought is the SilverStone CW02. At $380, it is the single most expensive component of my HTPC. I bought it because it met 19 of 20 specific features I listed down before even looking at potential cases. Needless to say, the one specific miss was “not too expensive”. I do not recommend this case unless it is within your budget for a case and you know someone with experience with putting a PC together. It is not an easy case to work with. It is compact for something that takes a full size ATX motherboard, that means doing something as simple as installing / replacing a hard drive involves tearing down the PC either partially or entirely to gain access to the drive cages.

    Here’s a link to a video review if you are curious:

    http://www.5min.com/Video/Tech-Review---SilverStone-CW02-HTPC-Case-147836042


    Hard Drive Setup….

    soundguruman recommended a Western Digital (WD) VelociRaptor hard drive. It is a high performance hard drive and it delivers very good performance, but it can be somewhat loud. Maybe not appropriate in a HTPC for some people. I actually recommend having at least two hard drives in any computer including a HTPC. The basic reason is to protect at least some of your data in the event of a hard drive failure. If you only have one hard drive and it fails, you basically loose everything. If you have two hard drives and one fails, either your operating system and any programs you use will be lost, or all your media files will be lost, but not both.

    Drive #1 – This should be a decent / good performing hard drive that will be used for the operating system and some programs. Basically allows you to boot into Windows XP / Vista / 7 fairly quickly. I recommend a WD Black hard drive which does not need to be excessively large; 320GB – 500GB. Hard drives are really cheap.

    Drive #2 – This is your media drive. All your media should be stored on this separate physical hard drive. It does not necessarily need to be a high performance hard drive, but it should be large especially if you plan on recording lots of show to watch later. I like WD hard drives myself. You can use either Black, Blue or Green drives (more on this later). I would select a 1TB drive just because it allows you plenty of storage and they are relatively inexpensive as well.

    Drive #3 (Optional) – This is a totally optional drive because it serves as a sort of “backup”. Windows 7 allows you to set up two drives in RAID 1. RAID means Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives. To be very brief, RAID 1 allows use to backup the data written on one hard drive (Drive #2 in this case) onto another hard drive; as the data is being written to Drive #2, it is also being written to Drive #3. I don’t really recommend this setup for your situation because recording TV shows and writing onto two hard drives at the same time will be rather intensive. Additionally, I assume once you watch the recorded show, you will delete it. Therefore, there is no need to create a back. I am merely point this out to you so that you can think about how you want to back up data that is important to you in the case of hard drive failure.


    WD Black Drive – Excluding the VelociRaptor series this is the highest performing series from Western Digital. It makes the most noise, and consumes the most energy. I use this type of drive for my operating system.

    WD Green Drive – This series represents the most energy efficient (or Green) series. Data is written and read at a slower rate than the black drive, but it is quiet and consumes as little power as possible. I use these types of drives to store and backup my media files.

    WD Blue Drive – This is a compromise of the Black and Green drives. Not the fastest, not the slowest, uses a moderate amount of energy and is the middle road in terms of noise.


    My recommendations are:

    Operating System Drive: Western Digital RE3 WD3202ABYS 320GB 7200 RPM = $70 + $6 Shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136297
    Reason: “RE” stands for RAID Edition and is considered to “Enterprise” class hard drives. Statistically speaking (based on WD’s actuarial calculation), the failure of these drives are statically lower than typical consumer hard drives. That’s not to say they will not die earlier than expect; just the chances of that happening is lower. The price premium is about $10 - $15 more than a “consumer” black drive of a similar capacity.

    Data Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EALS 1TB = $80 + Free shipping
    Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136534
    Reason: Since I am not sure if the “Green” drive will meet your needs I opted to go with a Blue drive as a compromise of performance / noise / energy consumption. Yeah I know, it’s nearly the same price of the WD RE3 drive. Capacity is cheap and this is not an Enterprise class hard drive.
  17. soundguruman said:
    Low power consumption? That's the most power efficient power supply AND the most power efficient board you can buy. Heard of AMD cool and quiet? It reduces the processor when the demand is low. The system saves 33% electricity compared to other systems.


    But still very high compared to less powerful components that are more than adequate to play DVDs and Blu-Rays.

    soundguruman said:
    Watch TV, DVD and blu ray? This design handles cable,antenna, digital, or analog, and you can plug in an external player to boot. In fact it has an antenna switch, for two separate sources, in my case satellite and cable at the same time. And can I record one channel while watching another ? Yes. Does it record and play blu ray? Yes. Does it have 7.1 surround sound? Yes.


    You can still do all that on a less expensive build.

    soundguruman said:

    Big screen means everything, because the same pixel on a smaller screen is ten times more noticeable on a bigger screen. The larger the screen, the more noticeable imperfections become. It's definitely not the same at all. The bigger the screen, the higher the quality must be, or it looks like doo-doo.


    Apparently you do not read. Here's a link to the article regarding video quality playback for the 3rd time:

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/htpc-graphics-cards.html

    Additionally, panel technology ultimately affects how good video looks, not how much money you throw at a video card. However, this is a separate, more technical point of discussion that simply goes off this topic.


    soundguruman said:

    If I was building a game machine, I would put big giant heat sinks on everything, overclock it, and turn the fans up high. This is opposite. Fans on low, stock heat sinks, never need to overclock because it's better than it needs to be for the application.
    In three years, everyone will want a computer this good, it will have to be, to keep up with the technology demand. The difference being that this design will not be obsolete in three years, or in five. And when everyone is buying a new computer, I will still be using this one, because it's ready for the future demand. And in 7 years, it will be old and obsolete.
    So build a computer that will be old in 3 years, I'm building this one for the next 7 years. It's not my problem that every high quality hardware component is built to appeal to gamers.
    Who's building to appeal to home theater enthusiasts? I mean with GOOD hardware? Answer: like nobody.


    Dude!!!!! I don't care if you spend $20k on your own personal PC.

    However, I do care if you are trying to convince someone to waste their money on things they don't want or need.
  18. It takes surprising little CPU and GPU power to move video from the hard drive to the TV.
  19. Oh Man. I so saw this coming. That's why I pointed the OP to the new build forum.
    Definitely need to watch Jeopardy. Definitely want a quad core processor. I get my boxer shorts at K-Mart in Cincinnati. I think the OP got scared off
  20. I'm pretty sure she did repost in the New Build Forum (though I can't find it anymore) and I thought she did get the help she needed.

    -Wolf sends
  21. Yeah, here it is.

    - rwp receives LOL
  22. The minimum card recommended by engineer at XFX for a home theater was 5670.
    I was going with a 5870, but now I'm going to try them both side by side.
    Since I am using the PC for Blu ray, streaming video, cable TV, satellite TV, photo editing, CAD, high res scanning negatives, photos,
    and I want to use the desktop computer and play HD movies at the same time, on two screens, I see nothing wrong with a quad core processor. In fact it might be nice to have six cores.
    As far as the video card goes, may the best one win. If the cheaper card does everything these people say it will do, so be it.
    I really have my doubts about the little dinky card VS. the battleship.
    When in doubt, build it stout.
  23. Despite what "experts" have written,
    I have built the entire system, as above, and my conclusion is:
    The 5870 video quality is superior, compared to the cheaper cards.
    And I actually DID buy TWO cards, The cheap one, as recommended by "experts" and the expensive one, 5870. The 5870 blows the cheapo card away, both in video quality, and range of adjustments. It is MOST noticeable with streaming video programs.
    Still photos?...About the same for both cards.
    DVD playback? a bit better with the 5870. Cleaner picture for sure.
    Streaming video? The 5870 is far, far superior.
    Also the 5870 idles at 23 watts, making it run cooler than previous battleship video cards. The fan being adjustable speed, was no problem to set it into a quiet operational mode.
    I will stick with the good card, and at $375, it was worth it-for the noticeable improvement in video quality.
    I don't care what your "experts" have written. I can see the difference with my own two eyes.

    I will also stick with my quad core processor. The quad core goes 50% during video playback, which would make a dual core go 100%. And that's what I don't want! The second a processor goes 100%...is when you loose your video quality.
    I need cache memory to spare, that never goes 100%! Quads rule for home theater. The difference in price being so small between dual and quad, why bother with a dual core?

    You can read reviews all day long, written by "experts"....but try actually building it, and compare the quality side by side. I DID!
    You get what you pay for.
  24. For just an HTPC really these high end graphics cards are stupid. A 5870 to drive a TV at 1080p? Really? EVGA has their 780a mobo in Bstock dirt cheap and the integrated 8300m GPU with 16 stream processors is MORE than enough to do hardware decoding of bluray movies.

    I've got an HTPC I just slapped together with a Phenom x3 a friend gave me for free and the 780a that I bought from EVGA and it's great.

    Soundguruman, the difference you've seen from a 5870 for HD video rendering is in your head. The nvidia ION nettops can handle 720p video just fine on a dual core atom and what is basially a 9400gt.
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