How To: Build An HTPC (With Windows 7)

Motherboard And CPU

Processor: AMD Phenom X4 9350e

It starts with a platform. At the heart of any HTPC (and indeed, much of the consumer electronics hardware you see) is a very PC-ish infrastructure. For this particular build, we employ an AMD Phenom X4 9350e CPU running at 2 GHz.

We know what this machine needs to be able to do and we know that it doesn’t need to be a powerhouse to do its job. In fact, we’d specifically like to avoid 100 W+ processors because we don’t want to have to cool them. The 9350e is one of AMD’s “Energy Efficient” models with a 65 W TDP.

Even still, the chip boasts 2 MB total L2 cache, 2 MB shared L3 cache, and a 1.8 GHz HyperTransport link—it’s certainly no slouch, even if it isn’t at the top of AMD’s current lineup.

Motherboard: MSI Media Live DIVA (MS-7411)

Here’s the real soul of Maui. Don’t laugh—the board centers on AMD’s old, yet venerable, 780G chipset. It boasts an AM2+ socket interface, which is able to take any Athlon 64 X2 or Phenom processor, save the Phenom X4 9950 BE (also, Phenom II has not yet been added to the board’s compatibility list). But as mentioned, you’ll want to pay close attention to balancing performance with low power in order to keep heat and noise at a minimum.

Four DDR2 memory slots take up to 8 GB of memory running at speeds as high as 800 MHz. Again, we’re not shooting for the performance crown here. We simply want enough performance for smoother video playback and respectable encoding.

MSI does include one PCI Express x16 slot for graphics upgrades, but we’re going to stick with the integrated Radeon HD 3200-series GPU built into AMD’s northbridge. Were it relying on system memory, the built-in circuitry might not be quick enough to deliver the performance we’re counting on. However, the board boasts 128 MB of Side-Port memory to augment the shared storage. And, suiting it to a living room existence, MSI exposes HDMI, VGA, and component outputs.

We would have frankly preferred DVI to the VGA connector, but we have to imagine that HDMI is the really the most relevant interface in a modern configuration.

The rest of the board’s connectivity is standard PC fare—three PCI Express x1 slots, four SATA 3 Gb/s ports with RAID 0/1/10 support, Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, and an eight-channel Realtek audio codec. There’s one other feature that’s a little more special than the others, though: the PCI Express x4 slot behind one of the x1 slots. That connector is what lets you drop in the MS-4140 sound card. More on that in a second.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.