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How To Build An HTPC: Part I : Hardware

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Now that I've decided on an HD DVR system it is time to select the computer components that would make up my HTPC.

I am planning on using the free, open source MythTV software to act as my media center and I plan on running it on Ubuntu using the MythBuntu distribution so my hardware selections factored in compatibility with Linux. The hardware below should also perform well if you plan on using Windows Media Center.

In future posts I'll go into more detail about the hardware and how to put everything together but bellow is my HTPC hardware requirements and the hardware I chose to meet those requirements.

HTPC Hardware Requirements

The requirements I have for my HTPC Build Hardware are:
  • Ability to record/watch up to two over-the-air (OTA) ATSC digital broadcasts simultaneously with the ability to add support for more tuners.
  • Ability to record analog signals from the output of my satellite receiver.
  • Ability to display 1080p HD Video.
  • HDMI output for sound and video to connect to my TV 
  • Surround Sound capable if I choose to add surround speakers or hook up to a separate receiver. 
  • Ability to Play DVDs
  • Ability to write to DVDs.
  • Remote Controllable
  • Look more like A/V equipment instead of a computer
  • Low Power consumption (since it will be on a lot)
  • Low noise so that it is not disruptive.
  • Available Linux Drivers.
  • Room for plenty of  hard drives to use this as a backup server as well.

My HTPC Hardware

Building an HTPC isn't too different than building a regular PC or server. Most of the components are the same since it's basically a PC. I selected the following components to meet my HTPC hardware requirements for my combination MythTV Frontend and Backend server. The components were purchased from either Amazon or Newegg depending on availability and price.

CPU: Intel G630T

Intel Pentium G630T Sandy Bridge 2.3GHz LGA 1155 35W Dual-Core Desktop Processor - This is one of Intel's newer processors that operates at 35W which is about half the power used by the more common 65W CPUs. This was the lowest priced dual core 35W processor I could find and it has plenty of power for my needs, especially with the HD video capabilities in the Sandy Bridge line. The processor comes with a stock heatsink/fan which I've found to be quiet enough. Since it's a 35W processor that I don't plan on overclocking it the stock heatsink can handle the heat dissipation needs.
Check prices at: Amazon, Newegg

Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V LE

ASUS P8Z68-V LE works with the Intel G630T CPU I chose. It has HDMI output, HD digital audio, ports for multiple HDs, USB and the Z68 chipset can support hardware acceleration of video using VAAPI on Linux. The P8Z68-V LE has plenty of slots for expansion and doesn't require a fan for the chipset which helps keeps the system quiet. It has 2 PCI-e slots which will allow me to add 2 Dual TV Tuners The motherboard was a little more expensive than other options but the features make it powerful enough that I wouldn't need a separate video card to get HDMI output and video acceleration. NewEgg also had it for less than $100 as an open box special. First time I purchased an open box motherboard and I had no issues with it.
Check Prices At: Amazon, Newegg

TV Tuner Card: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250

Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR-2250 PCI-E x1 Dual TV Tuner - This card has 2 built in tuners for recording ATSC or ClearQAM signals from one antenna or cable hookup. The model I purchased came with a remote and fm tuner but the linux driver for this card does not support those features. Digital and Analog TV features are supported. The card comes with additional half height brackets for installing in a thin PC case. Many other tuner cards only allow one channel to record at a time. This tuner allows 2 channels to be recorded simultaneously while only taking up one PCI-e slot.
Check Prices At: Amazon, Newegg

Power Supply: Antec EarthWatts EA-380D

Antec EarthWatts EA-380D Green 380 Watt 80 PLUS BRONZE Power Supply - There were slightly cheaper power supplies available but I chose to go with this model because of it's 80+ Bronze certification which means it's 82-85% efficient. That's a decent power savings compared to non certified PSUs that are typically 70-75% efficient. This power supply received good ratings. I found it solidly built and the fan is silent.
Check Prices At: Amazon, Newegg

HTPC Case: nMediaPC 6000B

nMEDIAPC Black HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case
nMEDIAPC Black HTPC 6000B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case - This is a nice looking HTPC chassis that supports the motherboard I selected. It has a nice shiny front that will be at home along side other media equipment and has support for an optional LED display. This particular model is taller than other available models but I chose this one because it can support up to 6 internal hard drives which is important since I plan on using this computer as my backup server as well. There are other models that are not as tall available from this manufacturer. Case was reasonably priced. Quality is about what you would expect for a lower end PC chassis. Don't expect it to be like an expensive Zalman case though. It fits everything, it's solidly built and it looks nice. It comes with 3 fans that are quiet. The integrated card reader was a nice plus.
Check Prices At: Newegg

Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda Greet 1.5TB

Seagate Barracuda Green 1.5TB 5900RPM SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch Internal Hard Drive ST1500DL003- Bare Drive - I've always been a die hard Western Digital fan when it comes to drives but the price on this 1.5TB power saving hard drive was too much to resist. It's been performing well and is quiet. HD video takes up a lot of space so the more HD space the better.
Check Prices At: Amazon, Newegg

Memory: G.SKILL NS 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM

G.SKILL NS 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS - 4 GB of RAM should be enough for this system. This was my first time purchasing G.SKILL memory but it seems to be popular with gamers. This isn't the highest spec'd memory out there but it's decent enough, works with the MB and CPU and NewEgg had a great price on it which included free shipping.
Check Prices At: Amazon, NewEgg

Optical Drive: Lite-On LightScribe IHAS424-98

Lite-On LightScribe 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive IHAS424-98 - Retail (Black) - I chose not to go with a BlueRay DVD drive because the BlueRay DVD writers are still pretty expensive. I don't watch too many DVDs but I did want to have an option to do so. More importantly I wanted to be able to backup recordings and files to DVD. This is my first LightSribe burner and it was only a couple of bucks more than a comparable DVD writer. Supports dual layer. Amazon had a slightly better deal at the time.
Check Prices At: Amazon, Newegg

Miscellaneous Accessories

Some miscellaneous items I needed for my build:
  •  6' HDMI cable To connect PC to TV
  • 10' Cat5e Network Ethernet Cable To connect the HTPC to my network
  • A coaxial splitter and some short RG6 cables to be able to send the antenna signal to the HTPC and my TV. That way I can record 2 programs with the HTPC and watch a third live using my TV's tuner.
There's not all that much to building an HTPC. I tried to keep the components as low cost as I could without sacrificing on quality.

In upcoming posts I'll provide more detailed reviews on each component along with more photos and videos showing how I built my HTPC.

1 comment:

  1. Would love an update to your original article... Can a Raspberry Pi be used as the computing device and possibly XBMC software?