First Home Built HTPC

Discussion in 'Home Entertainment Computers' started by LongView, Apr 21, 2007.

  1. LongView

    LongView
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    Having got hooked on Media Center during the Vista beta and now having got fed up with burning shows to DVD in order to watch them in the comfort of the living room it was time to build my first HTPC (I've been building my own computers for years).

    Thankfully Toms Hardware Guide published an article on building a cheap PC so I decided to take two ideas from that in order to keep the cost down where possible (those featured in the article are in bold). Here is the hardware (rough prices in brackets):

    SilverStone LC11S-300 inc 300w PSU (Silver) Case (£100)
    Silverstone RC01 PCI-E Riser Card for LC11 (£20)
    ASUS P5LD2-VM DH (mATX) Motherboard (£70)
    Intel Celeron D 352 3.2GHz Socket 775 512Kb (£35)

    TWIN2X1024A-6400 2x512MB 240-Pin DIMM XMS2-6400 (£70)
    Maxtor DiamondMax10 300GB SATA II 16MB Cache (£0)
    XFX GeForce 7600GT 256MB DDR3 PCIE Dual DVI HDTV OUT (£0)
    Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T 500 Dual digital DVB-T PCI TV card (£70)
    Sony 18x DVD+/-RW 12X RAM Black Drive (£20)
    NetGear WG111v2 USB2 54G Wireless Adaptor (£20)
    Windows Vista Home Premium x64 Bit OEM (£70)

    The two items listed as £0 were items I had already. The case is great with an unusual motherboard fitting in that it actually gets attached to the top of the case so all items are upside down when the machine is in place. I had one quirk in that if I used all of the front bezel screws it forced the open button on the DVD drive to be pressed so I just left one screw out to release a little pressure. The PCI-E riser card works perfectly and allows the graphics and PCI cards to be mounted sideways since this is a low profile case. The last negative on this case is that the front fan doesn't connect to the motherboard instead using a 4-pin Molex connector so no fan speed control unlike the side fan which does which I find strange for such a high cost case. I could have swapped it out but its fitted in a very tight space so would have been a challenge. In the end I've not connected that fan up since temps are fine (more on that below).

    The Celeron D processor is a real bargain and gives me a Windows Experience Index of 4.0 although the other hardware (memory, drives, graphics) have scores in the 5 range. Vista is snappy, looks OK on the TV using the TV-Out (s-video), and Media Center looks perfect with crystal clear TV thanks to the Nova-T-500. System wakes from sleep to record and then snoozes again using the latest Hauppauge Vista x64 drivers but I have disabled the IR device since a friend has given me a MCE 2005 remote which also works perfectly with Vista.

    I had great issues getting the NetGear WG111 adaptor connected to my WPA protected network which took way too long to resolve and troubleshoot. In the end changing the channel on the NetGear DG834G router fixed the problem straight away. I've no idea why I had these issues because my laptop and a Nabaztag/tag in the same room have always connected perfectly.

    Now the only remaining issue is noise from the fans (CPU & Side Mounted). When setting the system up the noise was fine but now that its inside the cabinet under the TV it does get louder since the temp build up is higher (CPU Temp = 47C). I can't give exact DB levels so I'll describe it as not unbearable (e.g. you can watch the TV without increasing the volume) but during quiet times of a film/program it could do with being quieter. A tip I can pass on is to ensure that the case fan is plugged into the chassis fan connector of the motherboard, I initially used the PSU connector, as otherwise the ASUS Q-Fan doesn't control the fan speed to keep it at a minimum based on the heat inside the case.

    So now I've told you about my HTPC system if anyone has any advice on reducing the fan noise I'd be grateful. Obviously water cooling springs to mind and I've been looking at the Corsair Nautilus500 which seems very easy to fit. Any other suggestions? I'd really only consider in place fittings (i.e. not removing the motherboard or drilling new holes/fitting replacement brackets) which is why the Nautilus500 is so appealing.

    Anyone with experience of water cooling this case or indeed any home build HTPC?
     
  2. LongView

    LongView
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    Well I've solved my sound issues using a few tweaks of the system and a change in component. I purchased two of the Zalman resistors that sit between the fans and the motherboard to reduce the current going to the fans which in turn reduces their spin rate. This allows sufficient airflow around the inside of the case without generating any noticeable noise. I also bit the bullet and changed the front fan to a three-pin type which wasn't as tough as I'd expected.

    This still left significant noise coming from the PSU which I can't control and I have to say that the supplied PSU isn't quiet when the fans are spinning fast. I decided that the graphics card was just too much for what is essentially a DVR so I decided to down grade as follows:

    XFX GeForce 7300GT 256MB DDR2 PCIE VGA DVI Passive

    This removes a fan (the 7600GT has one on the card), reduces heat since the 7300GT is a lower end card, and it should also draw less power helping to keep the PSU cooler. I should add that this card is still capable of HDTV output so its still a great card for a HTPC.

    The change is dramatic and the system is now whisper quiet especially on cooler days. There is still audible noise from the PSU fans but even with the TV off this isn't a distraction when reading, etc. I'd describe the sound as quieter than say a Sky+ box when its fans are on (which I accept isn't all of the time like a computer PSU). The other great change is less heat exhausting from the PSU which I'd guess was mostly coming direct from the 7600GT which sits right next to the PSU and its internal fan.

    Hope this experience helps someone who is looking to build a system based on the same case. I have some issues with the latest nVidia drivers and choppy TV and also Media Center crashes when I'm in the Videos folder which is most likely a codec problem but I'm going to post about those under a seperate topic.
     

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