First HTPC build advice

If this is not posted in the right area please let me know. I consider myself to be moderately technical but no expert. I would like to build a system to use as an htpc. I would rarely use it for normal pc work. So dedicated media server is what I want to build. Please give me suggestions or complete build lists to meet my needs below.

Budget: $400-$500 (target)
Time to buy: 1 to 2 months from now.
Normal use: currently I watch about 90% of content through xbmc on a Mac mini. Mainly downloaded files but some Hulu and other streaming sites. I would like to take advantage of the pvr capability by including a tv tuner.

I have a useable copy of windows 7 pro 32 bit. I have a 4TB synology NAS so storage is not a concern. I do not typically watch DVD or blueray but would like to have the option but could add in the future. Also not interested in 3D at the moment either.

I hope this gives a pretty good idea of what my needs are. I appreciate all suggestions.
23 answers Last reply
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  1. Here's a build to start off. Celeron G1610 is more than enough for pure playback and streaming (no games). Since you already have storage, I suggest SSD for speed, 64GB will be more than enough for Windows/XBMC. H77 motherboard gives you HDMI connections. Case is HTPC form with room for standard PSU and extra storage. You could save money and buy a smaller case with built-in PSU but be careful, the stock PSUs may not be good quality. This is well within your budget.

    PCPartPicker part list: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/Jmp3
    Price breakdown by merchant: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/Jmp3/by_merchant/
    Benchmarks: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/Jmp3/benchmarks/

    CPU: Intel Celeron G1610 2.6GHz Dual-Core Processor ($49.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Biostar H77MU3 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($86.97 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($33.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 40GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($64.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: nMEDIAPC HTPC 5000B HTPC Case ($69.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: Corsair Builder 430W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V Power Supply ($34.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NS95 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $358.91
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-03-12 23:31 EDT-0400)
  2. Thanks for the quick response. This is a great start. I think i know the answer already but I am gonna throw it out, do I need a seperate video card or will the CPU be enough?

    A few things to add from my earlier list: I want to connect wireless, be sure smooth 1080p playback and HD sound for my surround sound system.

    Does the build support this?
    How picking should I be with a wireless adapter?
    Advice on a Tv tuner to add?
  3. Hart240 said:
    Thanks for the quick response. This is a great start. I think i know the answer already but I am gonna throw it out, do I need a seperate video card or will the CPU be enough?

    A few things to add from my earlier list: I want to connect wireless, be sure smooth 1080p playback and HD sound for my surround sound system.

    Does the build support this?
    How picking should I be with a wireless adapter?
    Advice on a Tv tuner to add?


    Yes, CPU is enough - no video card necessary.
    Any wireless adapter will do, just make sure it is compatible with the expansion ports in the motherboard that you choose.
    I don't have any experience with TV Tuners, but Hauppage seems to be the standard recommendation.
  4. What TV Tuner card you get is going to depend on what TV service you have. Regardless, any TV tuner card you get is going to require more than just that celeron processor.

    For free Over-The-Air broadcasts or basic Cable TV, one of the Hauppauge TV Tuners like Aristotelian suggests is good enough. If you have a Cable TV service that requires a set top box, however, you will need a CableCard ready TV Tuner device like the Ceton InfiniTV4 PCI-E/USB, Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650, or SiliconDust HD HomeRun Prime.

    -Wolf sends

    Edit: Unless the wireless router/access point is in the same room as the HTPC, streaming video over a wireless network is going to be iffy at best.
  5. Wolfshadw said:
    What TV Tuner card you get is going to depend on what TV service you have. Regardless, any TV tuner card you get is going to require more than just that celeron processor.

    For free Over-The-Air broadcasts or basic Cable TV, one of the Hauppauge TV Tuners like Aristotelian suggests is good enough. If you have a Cable TV service that requires a set top box, however, you will need a CableCard ready TV Tuner device like the Ceton InfiniTV4 PCI-E/USB, Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650, or SiliconDust HD HomeRun Prime.

    -Wolf sends

    Edit: Unless the wireless router/access point is in the same room as the HTPC, streaming video over a wireless network is going to be iffy at best.


    Thanks for clearing up the CPU. I thought I had that figured out but wanted to make sure.

    Wolfshadow....
    After reading your reply I realized one thing for sure, I need to increase my budget a little. Not a problem. As for cable service, I am currently stationed overseas and live on base with an US cable provider (americable) i get about 6 channels free (AFN) straight from the wall without a set top box. If I wanted a an upgrade in program I would get a box but they do not use cable cards.

    So, basic service TV tuner works. If I upgrade service and need a box without a cable card, will the TV tuner do any good? Not planning on this but want to know in case something changes in the future.

    What CPU do you recommend for a TV tuner? Another item I would like is to still be able to use my harmony remote.
  6. Quote:
    So, basic service TV tuner works. If I upgrade service and need a box without a cable card, will the TV tuner do any good? Not planning on this but want to know in case something changes in the future.


    If you upgrade your service to require a set top box, you can still use the TV Tuner card, but more as a video capture card. The set top box will do all the tuning. Connect the output of the set top box to the TV Tuner card's input. Rather than changing channels on the PC, you'll change channels using the set top box.

    For an HTPC with a TV Tuner card, I'd go with any AMD Dual-Core processor or Intel Pentium dual core. I'm not sure how well the Celeron processors would hold up for dual tuners in use.

    Your Harmony Remote will still work with whatever TV Tuner Card/Set Top Box configuration you end up with.

    -Wolf sends
  7. Wolfshadw said:
    Quote:
    So, basic service TV tuner works. If I upgrade service and need a box without a cable card, will the TV tuner do any good? Not planning on this but want to know in case something changes in the future.


    If you upgrade your service to require a set top box, you can still use the TV Tuner card, but more as a video capture card. The set top box will do all the tuning. Connect the output of the set top box to the TV Tuner card's input. Rather than changing channels on the PC, you'll change channels using the set top box.

    For an HTPC with a TV Tuner card, I'd go with any AMD Dual-Core processor or Intel Pentium dual core. I'm not sure how well the Celeron processors would hold up for dual tuners in use.

    Your Harmony Remote will still work with whatever TV Tuner Card/Set Top Box configuration you end up with.

    -Wolf sends


    Thanks for your input. I had put this on hold for a little while while researching if there was a pre built unit that would satisfy my wants. Wanting a cable tuner as part of the unit seems to cancel most out. I was ready to start buying parts today when I realized the mother board did not have an HDMI port. Doing some reaserch I was left with two questions:
    1. Should I get a mother board with HDMI port or just add a video card with HDMI? If the later wich one?
    2. Maybe a silly question but to be sure, does the HDMI on the mother board support audio as well? I want at least 5.1, but I will run it to a reciever then to the TV.

    So here is what I have for the build:
    AMD Athlon II X2 245 2.9 Ghz Dual Core
    Gigabyte GA-880GM-D2H Micro ATX AM3
    G. Skill 4GB
    Crucial 64 GB SSD
    Rosewill RNX-N250Pce PCI-Express (wireless card)
    Case nMediaPC HTPC 1000B (considering a silverlight)
    ASUS BC 12B1ST/blk/B/AS Blue ray (opticall drive)
    Corsair 430 80 plus Bronze ATX12 PS (power Supply)
    Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1850 (tv tuner)

    I have a copy of 32 bit windows 7 but considering purchasing 64 bit windows 8.

    Any and all thoughts are appreciated.
  8. The Gigabyte GA-880GM-D2H does have an HDMI output, but I'm not certain it will output 5.1 audio. Given that you're currently overseas, I'm not sure what the availability of new components are; whether you have a PX/BX or your having components shipped to you from home. If a low-end low-profile Radeon HD6570 is available for you locally (on short notice), I'd order the build as is, test how it runs/records with 5.1 audio without the discrete card. If it works, great. If not, get the card locally and install it.

    If the card is not available on short notice, then I'd go ahead and order it with the rest of your components.

    -Wolf sends
  9. A8/A10 quad Trinity for me and under volt chip in BIOS
  10. Wolfshadw said:
    The Gigabyte GA-880GM-D2H does have an HDMI output, but I'm not certain it will output 5.1 audio. Given that you're currently overseas, I'm not sure what the availability of new components are; whether you have a PX/BX or your having components shipped to you from home. If a low-end low-profile Radeon HD6570 is available for you locally (on short notice), I'd order the build as is, test how it runs/records with 5.1 audio without the discrete card. If it works, great. If not, get the card locally and install it.

    If the card is not available on short notice, then I'd go ahead and order it with the rest of your components.

    -Wolf sends


    Thanks for the quick reply. You are correct about the motherboard. I was refering to the one previously recommended. I am glad to see you think this one will work. I am near Tokyo and with a little hunting I think all these parts should be available to me. Though for ease I may just order them. I found this site that listed some detail about the motherboard and if it is trustworthy it looks like it will put out 5.1 audio. Before going ahead I would like your thoughts on it.

    http://dx.com/p/gigabyte-ga-880gm-d2h-am3-amd-880g-hdmi-micro-atx-amd-motherboard-90583

    Thanks.
  11. I had a look at the site and it's probably accurate, but not in the way you're thinking.

    Quote:
    Audio - Realtek ALC889 codec High Definition Audio 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel Support for S/PDIF In/Out


    And then if you look further down under Internal I/O Connectors it says:

    Quote:
    1 x S/PDIF Out header


    This means that there is a 2- or 3-pin header on the motherboard that you can connect to an S/PDIF output jack like this one. It does not specifically state your can get 5.1 audio from your HDMI port.

    -Wolf sends
  12. Wolfshadw said:
    I had a look at the site and it's probably accurate, but not in the way you're thinking.

    Quote:
    Audio - Realtek ALC889 codec High Definition Audio 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel Support for S/PDIF In/Out


    And then if you look further down under Internal I/O Connectors it says:

    Quote:
    1 x S/PDIF Out header


    This means that there is a 2- or 3-pin header on the motherboard that you can connect to an S/PDIF output jack like this one. It does not specifically state your can get 5.1 audio from your HDMI port.

    -Wolf sends


    Wolf,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions. It is great that people like you are out there to assist those with the motivation and willingness to take on a new endevour but the lack the technical knowledge. I have played around with some parts and have increased the bugdet but have decided to just go with the video card just to be safe. So updated list of parts:

    AMD Athlon II X2 245 2.9 Ghz Dual Core
    ASRock 970 Extreme3 ATX AM3+
    MSI Radeon HD 6570 (video card)
    TP linkTL WDN4800 PCI express wifi adapter
    Corsair 430 80 plus Bronze ATX12 PS
    G. Skill 4GB
    Crucial 64 GB SSD
    ASUS BC 12B1ST/blk/B/AS Blue ray
    Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1850
    Case nMediaPC HTPC 2000B
  13. Hart,

    It's my pleasure. It's how I repay the people who helped me get started.

    Looking at your parts list, I don't see anything wrong (the Athlon II X2-245 is older technology, but lower powered than anything newer). I do not see a storage hard drive. You do not want to be writing a lot of data over and over again to your SSD (viewing content via your TV Tuner writes data to your drive). If budget allows, get at least a 500GB drive for your storage. If budget does not allow, drop the SSD for the mechanical drive.

    -Wolf sends
  14. Wolfshadw said:
    Hart,

    It's my pleasure. It's how I repay the people who helped me get started.

    Looking at your parts list, I don't see anything wrong (the Athlon II X2-245 is older technology, but lower powered than anything newer). I do not see a storage hard drive. You do not want to be writing a lot of data over and over again to your SSD (viewing content via your TV Tuner writes data to your drive). If budget allows, get at least a 500GB drive for your storage. If budget does not allow, drop the SSD for the mechanical drive.

    -Wolf sends


    I has a NAS system to store my data and was planning on maybe adding more storage later. But Seeing how I already increased my budget a bit I decided to just throw in another 500 gb drive now. My plan would be to use the SSD mainly as a boot drive. Thinking about going for the INTEL i5 but that really changes the price. I will let you now how it turns out.
  15. Wolfshadw said:
    Hart,

    It's my pleasure. It's how I repay the people who helped me get started.

    Looking at your parts list, I don't see anything wrong (the Athlon II X2-245 is older technology, but lower powered than anything newer). I do not see a storage hard drive. You do not want to be writing a lot of data over and over again to your SSD (viewing content via your TV Tuner writes data to your drive). If budget allows, get at least a 500GB drive for your storage. If budget does not allow, drop the SSD for the mechanical drive.

    -Wolf sends


    Wolf,

    Need a litle more guidance to be sure i do not mess up. I want to go on common sense but to much invested and in the face of possibly being laughed at I will ask a few questions. First I probably went overboard on my build but here is what I have:
    Asrock Z77 Pro3 mobo
    Inte corel i5 3470 CPU
    4gb ram (4x 1GB)
    Saphire Radeon HD6570 vidio card
    Cool Master GX 450w PS
    Corsiar 120gb SSD
    ASUS BC 12B1ST/blk/B/AS Blue ray
    Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1850
    Rosewill RNX-N250Pce PCI-Express (wireless card)

    I have all the parts and began building last night. I have PS and motherboard installed. First question is what to do with all the cables from the PS? Mainly the mobo is 24 pin and the PS has a 20+4 pin connector. 2 connectors on the same wire bundel. Do both get plugged into the 24 pin of the mobo?
    2. Also there is a CPU 4+4 pin connector from the PS and the mobo has 8 pin, do I plug both of those in (12v)?
    3. the installation instructions for the video card is written as an upgrade not initial build. It tells me to disable the graphics on the mobo bios before installing. Should I go ahead and install from the start or boot it up, configure, add operating system and then follow the install instructions?
    4. once I am finished and ready to power up. will i first enter the bios and need to do some configuiring prior to installing my operating system?
    5. I was thinking about getting windows 8 64 bit but all my components are windows 7. I am sure there are updates for drivers but starting out with 8 would that cause any issues? I have no preference it is just that on base they only sell windows 8 with a boot disk. Was thinking maybe find a site to download windows 7 and make a bootable thumb drive. any thoughts or know a good site to download?

    Thanks in advance.
    Evan
  16. I'm not a system builder myself, so I can't offer any help with this.

    However, please don't discuss where to download Windows disc images. Tom's strictly forbids piracy. If you plan to purchase a key and use Windows legit, simply purchase at the Microsoft website and download it from there.
  17. Apanzee said:
    I'm not a system builder myself, so I can't offer any help with this.

    However, please don't discuss where to download Windows disc images. Tom's strictly forbids piracy. If you plan to purchase a key and use Windows legit, simply purchase at the Microsoft website and download it from there.


    My apologies. I was not looking for a pirate copy or site. I intend on buying it. When I went to Microsoft I only saw the option for windows 8.
  18. Hey Hart240,

    Quote:
    I have all the parts and began building last night. I have PS and motherboard installed. First question is what to do with all the cables from the PS? Mainly the mobo is 24 pin and the PS has a 20+4 pin connector. 2 connectors on the same wire bundel. Do both get plugged into the 24 pin of the mobo?


    Yes, the 20+4 pin connector should connect in such a way as to fit into the 24 pin power on the motherboard.

    Quote:
    2. Also there is a CPU 4+4 pin connector from the PS and the mobo has 8 pin, do I plug both of those in (12v)?


    Yes, the 4+4pin 12v power connector is like the 20+4 pin connector. The two 4-pin connectors should line up to fit into the 8-pin 12v port on the motherboard.

    Quote:
    3. the installation instructions for the video card is written as an upgrade not initial build. It tells me to disable the graphics on the mobo bios before installing. Should I go ahead and install from the start or boot it up, configure, add operating system and then follow the install instructions?


    Since the Core I5-3470 has it's own integrated graphics and the motherboard has an HDMI output port and assuming your display has it's own HDMI input, I'd recommend installing the OS without the graphics card installed first. Once the system is set up and stable, then install the graphics card and drivers. Note: you shouldn't need to go into BIOS and disable the on-board graphics, but if the graphic card install gives you any problems, that would be the first troubleshooting step.

    Quote:
    4. once I am finished and ready to power up. will i first enter the bios and need to do some configuiring prior to installing my operating system?


    You shouldn't need to.

    Quote:
    5. I was thinking about getting windows 8 64 bit but all my components are windows 7. I am sure there are updates for drivers but starting out with 8 would that cause any issues? I have no preference it is just that on base they only sell windows 8 with a boot disk. Was thinking maybe find a site to download windows 7 and make a bootable thumb drive. any thoughts or know a good site to download?


    Starting out with Windows 8 Pro shouldn't raise any issues. If you still wanted to use XBMC, you should first check to see if it's compatible with Windows 8. Otherwise, you should make sure to get Windows 8 Professional, as it's the only version with Windows Media Center.

    The only place I could recommend downloading Windows 7 from would be Microsoft Technet (at a $350/year subscription). The only other options I see would be to have a state-side friend/family member purchase Windows 7 Home Premium and ship it to you or to go with a linux distribution.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

    -Wolf sends
  19. Wolfshadw said:
    Hey Hart240,

    Quote:
    I have all the parts and began building last night. I have PS and motherboard installed. First question is what to do with all the cables from the PS? Mainly the mobo is 24 pin and the PS has a 20+4 pin connector. 2 connectors on the same wire bundel. Do both get plugged into the 24 pin of the mobo?


    Yes, the 20+4 pin connector should connect in such a way as to fit into the 24 pin power on the motherboard.

    Quote:
    2. Also there is a CPU 4+4 pin connector from the PS and the mobo has 8 pin, do I plug both of those in (12v)?


    Yes, the 4+4pin 12v power connector is like the 20+4 pin connector. The two 4-pin connectors should line up to fit into the 8-pin 12v port on the motherboard.

    Quote:
    3. the installation instructions for the video card is written as an upgrade not initial build. It tells me to disable the graphics on the mobo bios before installing. Should I go ahead and install from the start or boot it up, configure, add operating system and then follow the install instructions?


    Since the Core I5-3470 has it's own integrated graphics and the motherboard has an HDMI output port and assuming your display has it's own HDMI input, I'd recommend installing the OS without the graphics card installed first. Once the system is set up and stable, then install the graphics card and drivers. Note: you shouldn't need to go into BIOS and disable the on-board graphics, but if the graphic card install gives you any problems, that would be the first troubleshooting step.

    Quote:
    4. once I am finished and ready to power up. will i first enter the bios and need to do some configuiring prior to installing my operating system?


    You shouldn't need to.

    Quote:
    5. I was thinking about getting windows 8 64 bit but all my components are windows 7. I am sure there are updates for drivers but starting out with 8 would that cause any issues? I have no preference it is just that on base they only sell windows 8 with a boot disk. Was thinking maybe find a site to download windows 7 and make a bootable thumb drive. any thoughts or know a good site to download?


    Starting out with Windows 8 Pro shouldn't raise any issues. If you still wanted to use XBMC, you should first check to see if it's compatible with Windows 8. Otherwise, you should make sure to get Windows 8 Professional, as it's the only version with Windows Media Center.

    The only place I could recommend downloading Windows 7 from would be Microsoft Technet (at a $350/year subscription). The only other options I see would be to have a state-side friend/family member purchase Windows 7 Home Premium and ship it to you or to go with a linux distribution.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

    -Wolf sends


    Again, thanks. I assumed as much for the power connectors. Was going to install the video card though so I will remove that. Still need RAM. I got some RAM from my IT departmentr but it was not the right kind. I also think me PS arrived dead. when I plug it in without anything connected inside the fan does not even come on. I thought it might be heat activated but I tried pluging in my optical drive power and it did not work either.

    OS. I did think about using Linux but I do not know much about it. And not sure if it works with my hardware or what I might need to do to get my hardware working. Also the case I bought has 7 bays in it and I am thinking future growth and using it as my media server as well as living room media player. With that said I think my mobo only supports 4 drives in addition to the optical. but that should be fine for a few years. I will check out the site you mentioned.
  20. Linux should definitely work with your setup. If it doesn't, you can always add Windows later.
  21. My impatience got the best of me and I went ahead and bought windows 8 locally. Put it all together this weekend and it all works fine. Honestly I was surprised in the end how easy it was. Thanks for all the input and help. There might already be a forum for my next question but since it is part of my build I will ask it here.

    My case does not have IR reciever. What are some ways that I can add the function to have an IR remote control certain aspects of my HTPC? I have a Harmony Remote already and would like to use it.
  22. Seems that most people just go and purchase a remote control with an IR Receiver and then discard the remote in favor of their Harmony.

    http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Control-Infrared-Receiver-Ultimate/dp/B00224ZDFY

    -Wolf sends
  23. Wolfshadw said:
    Seems that most people just go and purchase a remote control with an IR Receiver and then discard the remote in favor of their Harmony.

    http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Control-Infrared-Receiver-Ultimate/dp/B00224ZDFY

    -Wolf sends


    After posting the question I did some more seaching and found the same sort of solution. I'll give that a try. It seems if I am going to use the front USB I will need to change my connection on the mobo from usb 3 to usb 2. not a big deal since at the moment I do not have anything that is usb 3.
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