My Home Theater PC Story – The hardware

Introduction:

I like to have everything at a finger’s touch so I started to build a home theater system more than a year ago. Since then the system went through several upgrades, both hardware and software but functionality is the same: To provide me with easy access to my movie library and also with TV access to continuously growing offer of digital media available online.

My main goals for a Home Theater PC were the following:

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1. Good looking case that would integrate easily with my other components

2. Able to play everything there is (and that includes 1080p stuff). As simple as that.

3. Low noise level

4.Reasonable price (under $1000)

5.Fast boot time

6.Remote control capability

Configuration:

As I mentioned, the hardware itself went through several upgrades, especially with the explosion of HD content. The current hardware configuration is:

Case:                        D-VINE MCE303 Black case

Motherboard:     ASUS M4A785-M

CPU:                         AMD Phenom II X4 945 Deneb 3.0Ghz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Retail

Hard Drive:           Intel X25-M SSD 80GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive installed in a ICY DOCK MB882SP adapter

Memory:                4GB generic

The current configuration completely satisfies me in terms of speed and smooth playback. The system is fairly quiet, the only relevant source of noice being the CPU fan during heavy load (playing 1080p). I am currently looking to get an aftermarket fan that would eliminate my last issue.

I spent quite some time searching for the perfect HTPC case. I really didn’t want to spend 4 to 5 hundred dollars on a case, so I looked on eBay and found the stylish D-VINE MCE303 Black case that looks like it belongs together with your other components.

Worth mentioning features include an oil-damped front panel that reveals the USB and memory card slots, a VFD display that can work in conjunction with Windows Media Center and a IR Trans USB Board w/ built-in RC6-compatible IR receiver.

The case also came with a Media Center remote, but I use my trusted Logitech Harmony 880 to cover all my home theater functions anyway. The case doesn’t come with a power supply which is an advantage, in my experience the power supplies that are pre-installed in cases are crap anyway.

Notable mentions:

Motherboard ASUS M4A785-M

– It supports DDR2 memory (which in my case is an advantage to reduce costs).

– Gigabit Ethernet

– ATI Radeon HD 4200 that supports DXVA for 1080p hardware acceleration. The CPU load for 1080p is around 12-20%

– great audio using VIA VT1708S with 8 channels

– HDMI out, of course

Intel X25-M SSD

– extremely fast Windows 7 boot-up time

AMD Phenom II X4 945 Quad Core

– more than fast enough for the task, I also got the 95W version to keep everything cool

– the stock fan gets sometime too loud for a HTPC setup, I’ll look into an aftermarket one

Cost

Here is my HTPC total cost (cost per component includes tax in CA and shipping):

Component                                                                 Price

Case                                                                               160$

Motherboard and CPU combo                           $228

SSD + ICY DOCK                                                       $259

Power Supply                                                             $49

Memory                                                                        $79

Blu-ray HD-DVD combo                                         $139

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Total                                                                               $914

(My time spent building the system – priceless)

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