Conan's new HTPC (re)Build

conan

Novice Member
Hey all,

Just thought I's share my HTPC build with you. I called it (re)build as its the 3rd incarnation of an HTPC in this case, the first being 5 years ago, then another 2 years ago. This time the PC has been updated to allow for high quality sound and media playback, utilising full 1080p and a BD drive.

Purpose of the PC, playback of media from NAS box, playing BD's and DVD's. No requirement for gaming, PVR, or using the PC for anything else at all really. These functions are covered elsewhere by other PC's/Xboxes/VM in the house.

Objective of build, quiet as possible, run XBMC smoothly.

Spec
Silverstone LC02 case
Gigabyte GA-E7AUM-DS2H Mobo
Intel E8400 CPU (3Ghz Dual Core)
4Gb Corsair Ram
30Gb OCZ Series II solid state drive
Panasonic U130 Laptop BD drive
Sythe Shuriken Low profile CPU cooler
Silenx 60mm Case fan

The HDD was used for three reasons, 1, no moving parts, so silent. 2, no moving parts, so no heat build up. 3, I wanted one to play with and see what they are like :) At 30Gb it is small of course, but all it is running is the OS and XBMC, nothing else going on the PC. All media will be streamed from the NAS box or be via the BD drive.

The case is quite old, so there are no SATA power supplies, I had to use molex-sata converters and there were a couple of snags, one sorted and one under review (more in the detailed post).

Overall, I am pleased with the result, it is very quiet, in a room with background noise it can't be heard. If I switch it on first thing in the morning with no background noise, it is inaudible from 2M away.
 

conan

Novice Member
Don't you just love receiving boxes of shiny new bits, like Xmas again :)



First, I must apologise for the quality of the following images, I couldn't find my mini tripod and I drink far too much beer to have steady hands for photography :p

My trusty old HTPC case stripped out and ready to go (old bits in a pile, going to be used for my first proper home server build).


With the top off the case.


The tray that holds HDD and Optical drive.


The case with the tray removed.


First job, get the CPU, Cooler and Ram installed on the motherboard, but before then a couple of pics of the Sythe Shuriken, the Mini Ninja is too tall for my case.




The motherboard with CPU fitted and TIM applied.


Then with the cooler and RAM added.


Next step, fit the motherboard assembly into the case, the CPU cooler is a very close fit with the PSU, but there is a couple of mill clearance.


Now I fit the HDD and the BD drive to the drive tray.


So far so good, but a couple of little problems heading my way.....

So its time to fit the drive tray into the case now, oops, it doesn't fit. The CPU cooler is interfering with the drive tray.


A little work with the hacksaw and the file and thats soon fixed :)


From the start of the build I spotted a major problem, the BD drive bezel is designed for a particular Laptop. The finish bezel on the front is contoured, and just does not match my case at all. There were a couple of ways I could fit it, but neither looked good. In the end, I have taken off the bezel, I am going to make something to cover the drive, or fabricate my own bezel for it.

Here you can see the issue with the bezel profile.

Not ideal at all, but the only other drive I found that would suit is a slot load Sony drive, it looks great but costs an extra £100 :eek:

So here is a pic of the PC fully assembled with all the kit inside.


Here is the finished (well almost) item with the top on but lacking a drive bezel.
 
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conan

Novice Member
So far, I have dual booted Vista and Win7 on the HDD, but to be honest for the work it will do it doesn't really matter which of these OS I will use. I've installed XBMC on both partitions, just to see if there is any diference or benefit to either OS.

I have to say the SSD has lived up to my expectations, it is light, quiet and cool, the only heat it gets is from the drive tray, it doesn't generate any itself. Of course as there are no moving parts in it, it's totally silent.

I've tested the setup connected to my 32" LG through HDMI, I have an optical lead to the Amp from the TV for the sound. Watched a couple of ripped BD's in MKV container, and played a BD to check everything is working. I'm very happy with the exception of the bezel issue.

The PC will be going in the lounge with our new AV setup (a future thread), and it will be inside a cabinet with glass doors, so the bezel appearance is not the end of the world.

I'm just fine tuning the XBMC setup then I'll post my thread on that as a separate thread.
 

Balerien

Standard Member
Looking good Conan :thumbsup:

Im looking forward to seeing your XBMC thread, despite really getting to know Mediaportal much better in the last week or so, I am still undecided as to which I prefer.

I have just ordered exactly the same motherboard too, so glad it works well :smashin:
 

lombard1

Active Member
nice thread :), im using mediabrowser on vista media center on my media pc and loving it, im also interested in a solid state drive for my main pc, is it very noticable in speed ??

Thanks
 

conan

Novice Member
Thanks guys :)

I'm just finishing the XBMC thread now, will be posting later tonight.

Speed of the drive, good question:thumbsup: The drive I have is quite an early model, and so cheap by comparison to the latest drives. On saying that, it is very fast booting into windows, but thats all I have benchmarked so far. I do plan to do some proper benchmarks to see how it compares to my samsung spinpoint. The boot into Vista is less than half the time of my main PC, but it is also loading less at the startup. My main rig is 1 min 45 secs, the HTPC is 50 secs to a usable desktop, both running vista64 ultimate.
 

conan

Novice Member
What is the most important feature of a good HTPC? Well, in my house, its the front end. The reason for this is that if the front end is not pleasing on the eye, and easy (by easy I mean intuitive) to use then it simply won't get used. If it doesn't get used then its an expensive ornament.

When deciding what to use I started by having a chat with the missus, understanding what she does and does not want to see in the next HTPC. It was very easy really, KISS, keep it simple stupid :) All she wants to do is see a menu for Films, TV shows. Music and Photos, nothing else, and the main thing is that each of those things should be as easy as possible to access.

The main problem with my past builds has been overly complicated front end software, even windows MCE is quite complicated to somebody who isn't a “natural” computer user. In addition to complicated front ends, navigating through directory structures to find movies or music on my NAS box was also off putting for SWMBO.

So, the criteria for selecting my front end software was,

1.Easy to use (a must)
2.Looks good (a must)
3.Handle as many media formats as possible with a minimum of codec requirements.
4.Free (nice to have)
5.Run on Linux (nice to have) carrying on with the low cost (free) theme.

Not required
1.TV/PVR functionality (have that on VM+ and TV card in another PC)
2.Any other computer functions (browsing, gaming etc), as everybody in the house has their own PC for this.

So I looked at the various front ends, many of which I have used in the past, including commercial solutions and windows MCE and decided to go with XBMC for two main reasons,
1.It is platform independent (windows, mac, linux, xbox). This will allow me to export my library and setup to Linux when I gain enough know how (about Linux).
2.It plays all media using its own inbuilt codecs, no need for extrenal breakouts to other 3rd party applications or worrying about codec installation.

XBMC download can be found here XBMC Media Center for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux | Download and the forums are here XBMC Community Forum

The initial download comes with 3 skins, one of which is media orientated (or more than the other 2), but I plan to use Aeon skin, which is optimised and designed with 1080p in mind as the front end resolution. It can be downloaded here Aeon: About

Screenshot time :)

Start up screen.


Movies




TV Shows – These shots drilling down through the TV, all shows, then seasons of 1 show, then episodes within that season.





Photos – You can select various methods of slideshows, nothing fantastic but adequate.


Weather – You can set 3 weather locations, I have home and my two other places of work, Paris and Yokohama :)




Play Disc - In settings you can select to autoplay disc on insert if you wish.


Settings – enough said, you sepnd a lot of time playing here in the early days.


Music – Lets you select pretty much the same view options as the TV or Movies view.


I'm only posting shots here of the Aeon skin, the other skins are already in various other places on the forums in Mediaportal threads. But if anybody has any specific questions or wants other shots just say :)

Menu Editing
XBMC allows to you easily edit what menus show and don't show, its a simple toggle on and off from the settings screen. So this means you don't have redundant menu options appearing or taking up space and time scrolling through them.

Background images and artwork
The background images and artwork can be set as a single image file, or you can point to a folder of images and it will randomly display them.

RSS
You can add more RSS feeds and position them in different areas. I kept to the one as I didn't want the screen cluttered, I have it feeding BBC news headlins.

Users
You can define user profiles, I am currently doing this. I plan on having two profiles, basically user and admin. The advantage is that I can leave all menu options enabled for the admin profile, and disable everything else for normal user mode. Less chance of somebody mistakenly pressing the wrong buttons, and also less buttons available to press. A more polished experience for the end user.

I haven't tried Media Portal, Boxee or other alternatives. As I don't need the integration (and complication) they offer in terms of breaking out to other 3rd party apps to increase the feature base. They may be the right solution for some people's requirements, but I don't need that, so I'm staying with the one install and its done of XBMC.

On saying that, I should point out that XBMC can do much more if you want it to. There are hundreds of plugins for other options and modifications, it can work with TV Tuners, act as an interent radio, run console emulators and much more. Its just I am choosing not to add any of these options. The more complicated I make it, the less likely it will be used by anybody except me. It is intended for all the family to use for viewing media.

It took me a few days to get familiar with the package, and then get it set up to suit how I want it to appear. I should say that I don't find the forums very helpful, in the main any help requests get referred to the Wiki instruction manual, or flamed as noobs. This isn't always the case, I did get some help there, but not much. The Wiki instruction manual is OK, but in no way comprehensive, so a bit of playing around to familiarise yourself is advised.

I tried the new setup out now on my 32” LG installed on my HTPC http://www.avforums.com/forums/home-cinema-pcs/1015764-conans-new-htpc-re-build.html and have to say the Aeon skin looks absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see it up on the 50” screen in a few weeks.

One thing to bear in in mind, XBMC is platform independent and so does not use hardware acceleration. This means it needs a lot of CPU grunt to run smoothly, I'm using an Intel 3Gz dual core, but ideally would have opted for a 780/790g chipset with a 5050e CPU. From reading up on the XBMC forums, this hardware combo won't handle smooth 1080p playback in a Windows OS. For you Linux peeps then you should be fine with lower hardware requirements (but not much lower).
 

wHoMe

Active Member
You should do the media flag mod then you wont get those question marks at the bottom of the screen :)

BTW its very easy to launch an external player in windows like Zoom Player then you can make use of CoreAVC and CUDA save your CPU doing all the work, it can look totally seamless to ;)

With the 780/790g you can use MPC-HC using that method although DXVA is a little more picky
 
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Merged threads.

Its more helpful to keep all of your HTPC build and progress together in one thread rather than create two seperate ones which then shows the reader the path you have taken from parts through to frontend.

And thats a nice writeup on XBMC as well :smashin:
 

conan

Novice Member
Merged threads.

Its more helpful to keep all of your HTPC build and progress together in one thread rather than create two seperate ones which then shows the reader the path you have taken from parts through to frontend.

And thats a nice writeup on XBMC as well :smashin:
No worries, and thanks :)
 

conan

Novice Member
You should do the media flag mod then you wont get those question marks at the bottom of the screen :)

BTW its very easy to launch an external player in windows like Zoom Player then you can make use of CoreAVC and CUDA save your CPU doing all the work, it can look totally seamless to ;)

With the 780/790g you can use MPC-HC using that method although DXVA is a little more picky
Hi Whome, I don't have any problems with breakouts to other programs, but the missus does. I can do many things, and have done in the past on previous builds. The issue is that as it gets more complicated then the less it will be used by the wife. I can make the addins seemless to a point, but the remote controls will have some variation, or menus work in a slightly different way.

The objective of the setup is to have a 1 stop solution, 1 package that plays all our media with a minimum of fuss. XBMC fills those requirements perfectly and looks great while its doing it.
 

wHoMe

Active Member
Hi Whome, I don't have any problems with breakouts to other programs, but the missus does. I can do many things, and have done in the past on previous builds. The issue is that as it gets more complicated then the less it will be used by the wife. I can make the addins seemless to a point, but the remote controls will have some variation, or menus work in a slightly different way.

The objective of the setup is to have a 1 stop solution, 1 package that plays all our media with a minimum of fuss. XBMC fills those requirements perfectly and looks great while its doing it.
I can't argue with that M8 :)
 

conan

Novice Member
Hi, what's your thoughts on the Suriken? How quiet is it? Are you happy with it?
The Shuriken is good, its an effective cooler and just about fits in the case. I am very limited for space in the small case, and it only just fits in.

It is keeping my CPU around the 50 degree mark, ranges between 48 and 51 depending on ambient temp. The fan is very quiet, but not totally silent, to say its only 12mm high it shifts a lot of air. With my fan speed on auto the fan is spinning at 1255rpm, I'm going to play around and change the thresholds to see what effect on the CPU temps reducing the speed has. When I take the top off, the CPU temp falls below 40 and the fan speed reduces to under 600rpm, at this speed it really is whisper quiet.

Overall I am very happy with it. I wanted to buy the Zalman low profile cooler Virtual-Hideout | Zalman CNPS8000 Low-Profile CPU Cooler Review but I couldn't find it in stock anywhere, so this was second choice, but I have no regrets.
 

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