Feb 17, 2011
Valerie Hayworth

A Guide to Choosing your Home Theater PC, or HTPC

Have you been dreaming of your own Home Theater PC (or HTPC) but don’t know what you need to get started? Has every trip to Best Buy’s electronics department left you feeling confused?  Our support manager, Wayne, has written this handy and thorough guide with you in mind. His recommendations are from first-hand experience setting up his own HTPC; we hope you enjoy it!

__________

A guide to choosing your HTPC home theater pc

If you are like me, then you enjoy sitting in your living room while browsing your Facebook page, reading Emails, chatting or generally updating with news, etc.; while all along wanting to switch to watching a movie and taking advantage of your home theater system to watch HD movies or streaming TV.

To do all of these things you need not only have a simple media player but a full blown PC connected to your TV set, and that is called an HTPC (Home Theater PC).

Choosing your HTPC is a task within itself. You can always go for many already made systems out there but chances are you may fall on one or two things that don’t quite fit your fancy -  maybe it’s Audio/Visual needs or the actual way you interact with your HTPC, or even the color – this is why considering the following things is important to reach your hardware sweet spot and not get served with a hefty and unattractive bill.

This guide will focus on upgradability, price, and noise reduction for your ultimate Home Theater PC or HTPC.

CPU

I recommend the Athlon II X3 as fits the sweet spot of any HTPC needs and, with some tech knowhow and some luck, you can turn it into X4 ;) = $74 – $89

HDD

Personally I would go with an “X25-M Intel SSD 80GB” drive while connecting to your local repository of movies on a different computer, either streaming wirelessly or connecting via physical cord. The SSD drive is extremely fast, and has no moving parts, thus eliminating noise all together.

But I do realize these drives are currently still very pricey for Gigabyte per $ so I’d also recommend Western “Digital Scorpio Black edition” (whatever size you want but aim for no less than 500MB).

Also you will need rafters like “Scythe BAY-RAFTER-2.5-RB” so that the 2.5“Laptop Hard drive will fit inside a 3.5” slot.

The reason we take a 2.5” LapTop Drive, is because it is quieter than the 3.5” and it takes less power to function – 8W as opposed to 2W.

GPU

Most onboard GPUS will fit the bill nicely, this is why choosing a good motherboard is important as they hold the onboard GPU. The motherboards below both have an ATI 4XXX Onboard GPU which comes with an HDMI output and covers your bases.

Motherboard

Here you can go with either a mATX (Small) or mITX (V.Small) form factor, either will greatly change what size your end system will be and will also impact the bill quite significantly – for the purpose of this article (and your pockets) we will go with an mATX form factor.

I personally recommend either Gigabyte or Asus, both are very good reference board builders and I had nothing but good experiences with them.

They come with an optical out so you can connect them to your living room home theater system and enjoy DTS and AC3 like you would in any other fashion.

Some recommendations for a motherboard to go with the Athlon II X3 are:

  • GA-880GM-UD2H ($90+)
  • ASUS M4A78T-E  ($105+)

You can probably find cheaper models, but the reason I recommend these is to leave you room for upgrades should you wish to take your HTPC to higher hardware levels. In time, you can add memory and improve CPU on these motherboards.

Cases

(Get it without PSU, we are getting one separately). Choosing your case is a matter of taste and how much space you have. Measure the place you would like to have the HTPC sit in your living room, and take account for the enclosed space – have enough room for airflow and take into account the design of your living room to match the case.

Here are some name brands I find attractive, in order of appreciation:

  • Antec Fusion $149-165
  • Pixxo Slim Desktop (cheap one found on the web) $45
  • Thermaltake Element Q $77

Memory is cheap, considering you are buying the Motherboards listed above, you should go with at least 4 Gigabytes of DDR3 – 1600 MHz:

  • Corsair with heat spreaders like TW3X2G1600C9D Dominator 4G ($60)

Noise Level

As this HTPC is going to sit in your living room, you’d want as much out of it while being as quite as possible. We will have to make sure the components are silent and cooling and are as quiet as they are efficient.

  • PSU

o   Zalman : 360 Watt Quite PC PSU

o    Corsair : VX450 — 80 PLUS®

o   SeaSonic S12II 380B 380W

o   Antec: EA-380D Green

  • Case Fans: should come within the case, I just unplug most of them as they are very small (40MM) and normally don’t have any voltage control, default RPM is very fast in order to move air – causing a lot of noise. If you can fit one 92MM or 80MM inside, get one from “Arctic cooling” or “Scythe” and install it to exhaust air out – you can tell which way you should put the fan in by arrows on the fan itself.

  • CPU Cooling (For AM3 Socket) – basically you need to make sure you have enough room for the heat-sink of the fan you purchase; this is why a low-profile brand would almost always fit the case. You should also take into account that the smaller the heat-sink is, the faster the fan will need to turn in order for your CPU to stay cool which in turn will cause more noise.

My Recommendations

o   Zalman: CNPS8000, LowProfile ($50)

o   ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2 92mm

Remote Control

You have a couple of options here. You can use any standard wireless keyboard and mouse. Or, if you want something with more style, range and ease of use, here are a couple of recommendations:

  • Logitech have some great remotes, but they will easily cost you $300-400+ which is completely exaggerated in this writers opinion. But if you really want something cool you should go for the “diNovo Mini” ($119 retail price).
  • “Gyration” have some interesting stuff such as the “Air mouse” and the “Gyration Remote” – both retail for around $79.

Note: This guide deliberately doesn’t include any optical drive, Blue-Ray, DVD, etc. as broadband connections are so common and so fast – most people don’t need an optical drive to play 720/1080P content and can stream HD straight off the Internet.

Leave a comment