The "Ultimate(?)" HTPC Information thread

Grangey.

Distinguished Member
STILL HEAVILY UNDER CONSTRUCTION,

Please see Post 17 for a list of subjects I require user input on :)


The rest is still under development so dont be surprised if there are areas missing when you see this.


The "Ultimate" HTPC Information Thread
Everything you need to know about HTPC's (Hopefully!)


AVForums is FULL of usefull information on building PCs & HTPCs and I was lucky enough to join at a time where all these key threads were current and well known of.

Unfortunatley as time progresses, like anything things change, and valuable information get sucked deep into the many pages of a perticular forum- and with many members not using the search function its gets forgotten about.

Thats whats prompted me to start this thread!

I'm building this with the aim of this being your one stop "FAQ" shop if you will, and I hope that even the most unknowledgeable person on PCs can walk away from this educated.

I intend for this thread to cover everything so as to not leave a stone unturned, hopefully you can read this thread with a blank page and be able to walk away knowing the type of components you wish to purchase, how to build them, what front end to use, how to set everything up, know the important things, etc etc so lets get started!


Index;

Post #1 Beneith this index: Computers 101- Understanding components; Motherboards, CPU Sockets, Chipsets, Processors, RAM, Cases, & Hard Drives.

Post #2: Computers 101 continued; Graphics Cards, TV Cards, Operating Systems, Front Displays, Control Methods, & Cables

Post #3: Selecting the components appropriate for your needs

Post #4: How to build your HTPC

More.....





Basics/ What you need to know/understand


Components


--------------------------Motherboards--------------------------
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So whats a motherboard? Well, this is the hart of a PC. It is with this board that everything connects to- think of it like your bodys nervous system

Now this is one of the big confusion parts of PCs especially when youre looking at buying components at the first time so let me try to put it as simple as I can.

So there are 3 key parts to a motherboard you need to bare in mind;

1) Formfactor

So a formfactor refers to layout and size of motherboard- and it is this that cases are based around.

There are 4 main types of form factors-
ATX
Micro ATX (Or MATX)
ITX
and Mini ITX (or MITX)

This is very important when searching for cases- there is no "competition" between them, they all do similar things just in different sizes and shapes basically.

2) Sockets;
So what is a socket?
In very simple terms this is basically what you would think, it is like a plug socket. What I mean by this is PCs are based on different "Sockets" which changes normally once a year with new processors etc.

Sockets are generally referred to as numbers but also have a "code name" afterwards, I would forcus more on the number is when searching for components this is what will come up with the most results;

The different sockets for processors;

AMD

Socket F (LGA 1207)
Socket C32 (LGA 1207) (replaces Socket F)
Socket G34 (LGA 1974)

Intel


775
771
1366
1356 - Sandy Bridge
1156 - Lynnfield & Clarkdale
1155 - Sandy Bridge & Ivy Bridge Processors
2011 (Socket R)- Ivy Bridge-E


3) Chipsets;

So what is a chipset?
Well of corse I can put it no better than Wiki- "PC chipset, or chip set refers to a group of integrated circuits, or chips, that are designed to work together. In computing, the term chipset is commonly used to refer to a set of specialized chips on a computer's motherboard"

So why is this important?
Well very simply because the type of chipset your board is based on will dictate the features your motherboard have.

more needed here

Common and respected manufacturers/brands of Motherboards are;
Gigabyte
Asus



--------------------------Processors--------------------------
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The processor is the brain of the system, this is the clever thing that will determine a good proportion of the speed of your system.

There are 3 key parts to processors to look at;

1) Number of Cores

Basically each core is like a brain in itself, so cores are important when it comes to serious multi tasking.

Imagine a core like a single lane road, there is only so much traffic that single lane can cope with at one time...

Add another core or another lane, and you will have double the amount of tasks that can be coped with at one time.


2) Speed (ghz)



4) Cache




As would be suggested by the socket section of the motherboard, there are two processor makes in the PC world which are AMD and Intel. There will forever be a battle of which is better no different to the PS3 vs 360 battle so Il try and not go into that but I will leave it with my own personal current view of both.

AMD solutions seem to be overall cheaper offering good bang for buck so is ideal for cheaper builds. Looking at performance, currently Intel appear to be leading the way so deciding between the two will come down to what you want to achieve from your build. Its unlikely however that you will notice a big difference between them for general computing.

So lets take a look at the processor ranges from an overview;

AMD;​

Need a users imput here

Intel;

The most recent processors are the second editions of the i3, i5, and i7 so lets have a quick look at them in summery terms.

It is worth noting that all (someone please confirm) ranges of intel processors features onboard graphics and audio fully capable of playing back blurays and bitstreaming HD audio. This means you do not have to purchase a seperate Graphics card should this be your main usage of the HTPC (it is however worth noting that there is a bug that effects them outputting 24p pictures properly, most people dont notice this though at all- again, someone please confirm.)

i3- availible at a range of speeds- duel core and offer integrated graphics.

This is a intels entry level process and a great processor for a base level HTPC, it offers good performance all round, and its onboard graphics are good enought to playback full 1080p blurays and bitstream HD audio removing the need for a seperate GPU if your most challenging task visually is bluray playback

The one thing worth noting though is last I heard Intel accross the board still have issues delivering 24p playback on blurays- I will fill this in with more information when it comes.

Note: Second generation processors are indicated by a 4 number model number, last year was 3. (eg a current model is 2100, last years was 540- both are based on different sockets.)


Prices for processor only start from circa £90 for this years version, and last year from circa £70.

i5- availible in a range of speeds in both duel core and quad core models

The i5 is Intels mid level card and caters for all ends of the market. The i5's offer a perfect range of processor to cater for all needs. If you've got abit of spare cash and want to get more speed from a dual core processor (not needed much for general htpc use) then the i5 duel core version is great, if however you want to get into current gaming, the quad core versions are perfect. They offer fantastic bang for buck and all overclock (more on this later) very well. Its worth noting that there are two forms of the later i5, the very simple difference between these are one is limited not to allow overclock, one is not (this has a "k" at the end, ie 2500k)

i7

The top end end of intels general market CPUs. These offer the latest and greatest and also include a further technology called "Hyperthreading", this effectivly works as if you have double the amount of cores, so if you had a quad core with hyperthreading, performance would be similar in theory to an 8 core. I wont say much more on this other than these processors are for those that are serious about building a high spec rig needed either for high end gaming or video editing.

--------------------------RAM--------------------------
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To keep it simple, what you need to know about the Ram is as follows;
Ram consists of three things, its type, its speed (in frequency), and its timmings.

Type is reffered to as DDR- The most recent type for example is known as DDR3

Speed (frequency), keeping it simple Ram is made to function at different speeds, this generally ranges from 800mhz- 2200mhz, very simply speaking the higher the mhz the better speed/performance that RAM will deliver you. BUT check which frequencies your motherboard will except- some for example way only accept up to 1800mhz speeds

Timings I cant explain this right now

Common and more respected brands for RAM are;
Corsair

RAM is driven & limited by the motherboard, so to know what you can get, check what the motherboard accepts (should be specified on the technical spec and also owners manuals), the maximum amount of RAM can also be limited by the processor

RAM is basically the temporary memory that ALL programs and process use, and has a direct correlation between the speed of your machine and its ability to have and keep multiple programs running.

As a minimum I would recommend 2GB or Ram, for a posative experience I would recommend 4GB, but above 4GB is recommended for serious users who will be running big games for an example.

--------------------------Cases--------------------------
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Im sure you dont have to be a genious to guess what this is for... yes thats right, it houses all of your PC components and is basically what you will see every day!

These range MASSIVLY in shapes, sizes, features, capacity, etc etc and forums an important part of your build, as if you want loads of hard drives, you will want a case with plenty of drive bays. If you want quietness, you will want it to have at least 3 fans supported with at least an 80mm diamiter.

Cases are made to support specific form factor motherboards, so I would normally recommend finding a suitable case for your needs before making any decisions on motherboards and processors.

--------------------------Hard Drives--------------------------
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These are the little beauties that will store all of your information, media, OS, etc etc.

There are 4 Main things to look at and consider in hard drives;

1) Storage Capacity

How much space do you need? The higher the GB, the more the space (for reference 1TB (TB= "Terrabite"= 1000GB).

2) Speed

This is delivered just like a car- in RPM (rotations per minute). There are two primary speeds you will see from drives, 5400rpm and 7200rpm. The higher the RPM, the quicker the drive- so the quicker your programs and media will respond. But SOME 7200rpm drives can be noiser than their slower counterparts (worth bearing in mind if you want to build a completely silent system).

3) Connection Speed

There are currently two versions of connections, Sata 2 (or SATA II) and Sata 3 (SATA III)- These basically have different maximum transfer speeds, Sata2 having 3.0gb/s, Sata3 having 6gb/s.
Both connections are the same in how they look so dont worry about one not fitting on the other. But simply put Sata 3 is the latest standard allowing far higher transfer speeds from the drive, so where possible its worth trying to get a drive which has a Sata 3 (may just say 6gb/s) connection.

4) Physical size of the drive

There are 2 main sizes of drive, Conventional PC size 3'5 inch, and Laptop size 2'5.

There are also two TYPES of Drives availible- Hard Drives (Or HDDs) are the mainstream storage capacity due its cost and the time its been around. However, there are also whats known as Solid State Drives (SSDs).

Whats the difference?

HDDs are almost just like a CD player, they have a moving CD which the data is written to.

Solid State drives however have no moving parts at all, and instead their memory are on chips. This means instantly quick access times (for example the difference between windows taking say 12-15 seconds to boot from a HDD, to 4-5 seconds MAX on a SSD) they are also considerably smaller (as outlined in the picture at the top).

SSD drives still do cost a hell of a lot more than HDDs when looking at cost per gigabite- however, for speed they are highly recommened- even more so than a processor in many respects.

--------------------------Optical Drives--------------------------
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Well this is a quick and painless subject, Optical drives are drives that you inset you CDs/DVDs/Blurays into.

All that you should be looking out for here is read and write speads, so if you intend to rip your dvds to your hard drives as possible, you will want this to read DVDs at as quicker time as possible (indicated by "x" eg "x32"). Likewise if you want it write to blank CDs, Dvds, etc quickly you will want to find the highest write speeds possible.

I would also recommend you look at plenty of user reviews to determine the noise of the drive if this is important to you.
 

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Grangey.

Distinguished Member
--------------------------Graphics cards--------------------------
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Graphics cards, otherwise reffered to as GPUs are purposed to provide superious graphical quality than anything availible on board a cpu nativly. These are primarely there for gaming and video editing nower days so if you have purchased the latest range of intel processors and only wish to play back media for example you dont need to worry about this so much.

If however you have an older processor and want to have faultless bluray playback with hd audio bitstreaming, or you want to get in to gaming, heres what you need to know.

There are two companys in the GPU world, Nvidia, and Ati (an AMD company). There has forever been a war between the two of these, and much like in the CPU market AMD seems to steal the "on a budget" hat as their cards I believe are marginally cheaper. However I believe in performance terms Nvidia offer the overall superior offering.

Now, forget the battle between these two manufacturers, what you want to do is pick the GPU that is right for you and your budget,

So what do you need to know?

Well first of all you need to realise that there are two manufacturers of these GPU technologies as Ive already mentioned- but there are then numerous companies that customise these in their own way.

So for example, Nvidia will product a "reference" card which they will call the GTX460 which will have certain capabilities out of the box etc. What companies like MSi, Palit, Gainward, Gigabite etc all then making their own versions. These will have slightly different shapes and sizes, but more crucially these companies may tune them in their own way. Some will offer reference cards with their own cooling style, others will offer overclocked versions for increased performance, so you will want to do some research into whatever card fits your bill to figure out what the best branded version is to get.

So where do you start when looking at GPUs? Well, unfortunatley these things arent quite as black and white to explain as youd hope, as their model numbers for the cards dont follow a perticular oder so what I will do is give you the basics to then go away and do more research into.

ATI

ATi's models are dictated by four digit numbers.

Their entry card is the 5450 and is the HTPC's enthusaists holey grail. The 5450 will playback full hd blurays and bitstream hd audio with no problem (and can playback 3d blurays with a compatible setup). So if you have an older processor without on board graphics for example this is what you will want. This card is key to making a HTPC on a real budget if youre not bothered about using the latest and greatest. It can also play some games, but we are generally talking much older games and games that dont require much (so dont expect to be able to play battlefield 3 or crysis on this too easily)The best thing about it? Well, it costs around £25-35 depending on which model you get.

Entry level performance GPU here (ie can cope comfortably with all current DX11 games at high settings at 1080p).


Top end card here.


NVidia

Nvidia's works primerily on a 3 numbered code, all currently part of what they call the "GeForce" range. Cards that are gaming worthy are all modeled with a GTX infront of their model number- however some are better than others.

NVidia work in numbered "series" per each release. So for example they have had the GeForce "4 series (eg GTX460)", "5 series (eg GTX560ti)" and are now (April 2012) just releasing their 6 series cards starting with the GTX680 and GTX690.

Nvidias entry model is called the GeForce 520 and has been marketed as the equivalent to the 5450 in terms of capabilities. This thing can playback full hd blurays (inc 3d) and bitsteam HD audio no problems at all and again some lower requiremented games. I would not consider it as a gaming pc card though. Cost? again similar to the 5450- around £25-40 depending on manufacturer.

So lets start at the bare minimum- The GTX460 is NVidias sort of "entry level" gaming card, and a cracking job it does to. This card is now 3 years old (supreseeded by the GTX560ti and soon to be GTX660) but can still support all current games at pretty high settings (depending on resolutions) with full direct X 11 support and 3D games*. Not to mention it can also bitstream HD audio so ideal for a gaming HTPC. As these are a few years old your better off getting them 2nd hand- but this means you can pick them up for around £70- really not an expensive upgrade to have a machine that effectively has double the power of current consoles (and my god do you notice it)!

Then for those with a slighly higher budget, there is the GTX560ti (soon to be GTX660), this is as I mention above NVidias current "mid range" gaming card which will handle everything at impressive settings for the budget, again with all the bells and whistles of DX11 and again fully supports HD audio bitstreaming so perfect for gaming HTPCs.

Then top of the food chain (and I have missed some models in this) is the [-]GTX590[/-]GTX690, this is a monstor of a card (it has TWO GPU's in one card) with a monster budget but if youre someone that wants to play everything maxed out with high frame rates this is the card for you- however, I dont know of many HTPC cases that can comfortably accomodate the length of this thing.

Now as there are cards in between I will simply list all the current 2012 cards worth considering if you want to game:

GTX660ti
GTX670
GTX680
GTX690 (duel GPU)

The higher the number in the above order, the better the card performance wise but the higher the price tag. This model applies for the 5 series and older 4 series cards if you want to save abit of cash.

--------------------------TV Cards--------------------------
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I know little about these so if a knowledgable member could provide some basic info here I would appreciate it!

--------------------------Operating Systems--------------------------

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Taken from good old Wikipedia as I can do no better than describe them myself...
An operating system (OS) is a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system. A user cannot run an application program on the computer without an operating system, unless the application program is self booting.

The different OS currently availible;

Windows 7- this needs no introduction- costs start from circa £50 per licence

Linux- Linux is what is known as an "Open Source" operating system, meaning it has been created privately but developers all around the world sharing information and working together- but most importantly making the fininshed item availible to everyone- for free.

I cant say too much about it, other than unlike Windows, it is a light operating system, meaning its MUCH quicker in many respects

Ubuntu- again cant say much about this so unless someone inputs into it I suggest you do some research- another Open Source operating system except this one has actually been developed ON Linux and has new releases aproximatley every 6 months.

Other operating systems? (input)

No OS required;

Thats right, technically speaking you can actually build a PC without an OS in the conventional sense. For example, there is a version of XBMC (more on this later) called xbmc live which is completely self contained, meaning you can install it on a flash drive and boot from it with nothing else at all needed.

--------------------------Front Displays (VFDs etc)--------------------------

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Front displays are something that is generally case specific- although you can have them replace things like optical drives if you reeeally want, or you have 2 optical drive slots.

Very simply these are nice little displays that will provide you with system information depending on how its setup. They will typically display things like current date and time, now playing, system information such as cpu load, memory used, temperatures, and a range of others.

Normally a HTPC case will be preinstalled with one where applicable, and the biggest name in the game in that respect is a manufacturer called iMon.

There are many shapes and sizes to suit as well as different programs that will let you configure them accordingly. There is one piece of software specifically which I will try to find that is well documented in the Open Source community and has a wide range of support for complete customisation.

To keep it simple though if you dont have one, and wish to purcahse one, I personally recommened a plug and play one like iMon which comes with their own software.

--------------------------Control Methods--------------------------

To be fair, not much needed to be said on this- this is how you can control your HTPC.

I've almost exceeded my text limit so I have to keep this simple. You cant REALLY avoid having a Keyboard and Mouse and there are plenty of variations of these, the most popular choice for the HTPC though is the Keysonic ACK540 and I'm sure youl see why when you google it.

Remote controls- again more of these than you can imagine- typically though one may come with your IR receiver, if not just do your research.

Gamepads- for Gamers. Yes- you can use your 360 Pad for PC gaming! More on this later. Otherwise interesting twists to the Keyboard with Mouse combo are things like the Logitech G13 for example.


--------------------------Cables--------------------------​
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So, what cables are you likely to bump into during your build?

Component Related

Sata - These are used to connect components such as HDDs and Optical Drives to your motherboard and look like this

USB- these are a generally "quick" style connection generally used for external devices such as external dvds and flash drives etc. Theyre a brilliant connection none the less and the latest standard of "3.0" can transfer data at up to 5gigabites per second illedigly- of corse both devices need to support this. You will commonly use the USB connection to connect your wireless Keyboard & Mouse, Gamepad, Remote Control, External Drives, Flash Drives, and various other devices etc and the connection itself looks like this - note, this is the standard usb, there are various other sizes that things like personal cameras etc usb such as "micro usb".
The motherboard however has "USB headers" - this is probably the most "complex" connection you will see when builing a PC which is saying something. All this is basically is pins with their own purpose which you will need to connect things like card readers and non onboard USB devices to. These look like this and as you can see in the bottom right the connection is normally very straight forward, in extreme cases you will have individual cables for each pin but these will be detailed in the instructions for the device youre connecting.

Firewire. aka IEEE 1394 - Firewire is basically very very similar to USB, The key difference between FireWire and USB is that FireWire is intended for devices working with a lot more data ie things like camcorders, DVD players and digital audio equipment. Firewire isnt as popular as USB purely because it costs more to manufacture and make basically- none the less, it looks like this


AV related

HDMI- the godsend of cables. This little beat can carry the highest quality video AND high definition audio all in one cable. In the HTPC world this is likely to be the main connection for all of you and looks like this

DVI- The second best choice (although arguably the best still for picture) for video cable primerily connections to MONITORS. DVI is typically a cable only capably of carrying picture (although ive been lead to believe in recent times this isnt always the case and may be case dependant- ie my GPU can ouput sound from its DVI port over a DVI-HDMI cable)- but the imagine quality and most importantly resolution that it can carry is superior and is the choice selection. It is also a DIGITAL connection meaning as HDMI is aswell, these can be converted between eachother very easily (ie a little add on converter, or wired in-in cable such as DVI-HDMI cable like I mentioned). A DVI cable looks like http://seerpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/vga-hdmi.jpg

VGA VGA is abit more "old school" but still around today, its an analoge cable meaning you will need a pretty expensive powered unit to convert the VGA signal to that of a digital one like DVI/HDMI. This can however ONLY carry picture with no ifs or buts, and seems to be the preffered connection type for tvs with "PC" input. a VGA cable looks like this (note blue is a female connection)

Optical/SPDIF/toslink- The savour of audio connections for those without a HDMI ready AVR. Optical is a digital (fibre optic) cable and can carry up to 6.1 cannels of digital audio- meaning it can bitstream up to Dolby Digital ES and DTS ES 6.1 channel audio. The Optical cable/connection looks like http://0.tqn.com/d/hometheater/1/0/2/C/1/digitaloptical.jpg and will typically be found on most modern motherboards.

Coax- a Coax cable isnt used that often in HTPCs, at least not unless you have a dedicated sound card so I wont say much on this other than just like an optical cable it will bitstream all of your normal commercial surround sound formats such as Dolby Digital and probably some Im not even aware of.
 

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Grangey.

Distinguished Member
Phono the good ol' white red combo. Very simply this is an analoge cable/connection PER CHANNEL of audio so red would indicate left channel for example, and white for left. Again, unlikely you will need to use them in your HTPC unless you need a way of connecting it to your TV- inwhich case you might use minijack to phono or if you have a dedicated audio card a straight phono to phono. Anyway, these look like this. FYI a phone connection can carry either audio or video- which is why you may recall seeing a red, white, and yellow cable- yellow would carry the video.

Minijack typically used for PC speaker connections and headphones and if youve never seen one then theres something wrong you with. Just like the Phono its an analoge cable meaning it can easily be converted to another analoge connection easily (which is why you will see minijack to phono).

________________________________________________________________________________________

Ok, so hopefully the above has given you a crash course in PC components so youre a little more informed on them.

Now, time for consideration..

What type of setup do you want?

Do not get this mistaken, PC builds can be as mega or as simplistic as you want them to be so you need to ask yourself the following;

What to I want my HTPC to do?
examples-
Play back of movies up to full hd bluray rips?
Bitstream HD Audio?
Play Live TV?
Record Live TV?
Game?

Then, if you have any additional criteria to this, add it; examples

You then have to do some maths with your criteria against what you want it to do.

For example, you will never have a completely silent setup if going down the gaming route- so its simple logic, is what you want- achievable? Well read on, and hopefully I will try to and address that

Selecting your products

Silent HTPCS

Now, when I say Silent, I mean completely and utterly silent. So, how to you build a HTPC that is 0db in noise.

Well as an avid HTPC builder TECHNICALLY speaking there is no such thing, but in real world terms its achievable.

How?

Well there are ways of making most things in your PC noiseless, except for one thing, hard drives. No matter how hard you try unless you are going to spend £10,000+ trying to get a few terabytes worth of storage on solid state drives, the reality is your hard drives will always create noise and probably want some form of cooling.

SO the solution here may sound scary but its quite simple in principle, you remove the remove the majority of storage from being stored within the case.

Eh? how the hell can you have hard drives but not stored in the case

Well my friends Im glad you asked, and I have two solutions for you.

Solution one (most common)- using a NAS

Solution two (ideal if you intend on having multiple HTPCs)- a server

Both of these solutions relay on having a solid (and by solid, I do basically mean cable of you want to have full 1080p movies playd back) network created in your home- more on this later.


So putting that thought aside for now, how do you create a completely silent HTPC?

There are a number of keys here;

PASSIVE COOLING which as a result will mean using low power parts;

Low power CPUs- 35w seems to be favourable

If opting for one of the lower power i3s for example, I would (with my minimal knowledge on it) recommend NOT utilising the onboard GPU and instead opt for an ASUS passive cooled 5450/6450- this will result on even less load on the cpu meaning it can run cooler.

Solid State drive for Operating System

Optical drives make no noise unless in use so no real issue here

Fanless PSU (make sure you do research into your PSU and that you buy a relyable one, the last thing you want is to buy a cheap one and it short out all of your equipment and fail.

If you dont want to go down the NAS or Server route, theres little you can do about HDD noise. New HDDs admittedly are FAR quieter than the older ones which we associate noise with but none the less the will make some noise- but you should only be able to hear this when the room is silent- ie tv off etc.

I cant find a build example of AVF but there is a FANTASTIC thread on building a silent HTPC on the mediaportal forum Here which I would highly recommend you read as it covers everything I touch upon here in far more detail.

Budget HTPCs

Definition; Now this can be a touchy subject as budget means different things to different people, so to me, I will say "budget" as how much someone who currently has nothing can build a functional HTPC for.

Well the overall cost is subjective, if youre lucky/ jammy you may be able to build one for a couple of hundred quid at most, others might spend more.

The best way to build a "budget" HTPC though is to use older components and perticularly 2nd hand components.

The older intel 775 chipset processors are great processors on the whole, and whilst may not be quite as energy efficient as the new i3s, still have comfortably enough grunt for a HTPC is accompanied by a basic current CPU (such as the 5450). These processors can be had brand new from as little as £30 (for example the Intel Celeron E3400), accompany this with a 775 motherboard for another £30, and a 5450 (say £30), and for £90 you have the 3 key (and brand new) components for a great HTPC. £12 for a stick of 2GB ram (based on todays prices) brings it to £102. The rest of the cost is then made up of how much you wish to spend on a PSU, Optical drive, a HDD, and most importantly Case. But you could easily build a HTPC for £200 with this spec if you were to run it without Windows (which adds c£80 to any build cost fyi)

Example budget builds;
Will16v's 775 socket build- mind you this wasnt budget when built back in 2008!

Example spec using brand new components;
£50 CPU
£35 Motherboard
£12 PSU
£27 GPU
£50 HDD
£15 DVD-RW
£7 Ram
+ Case

Obviously I expect you to do your own research on these parts, these are purely for illustration purposes.

Total= £196 + a case.
(Dont forget the cost for Windows if thats the OS youve chosen!)

Now obviously you will probably want more storage than this, but baring in mind my recommendation at the top of buying second hand- just think, if you can get all this new for £200, guess how little you could do it using all 2nd hand parts from The AVF Classifieds for example.

It just goes to show that building a HTPC need not be an expensive project and Im sure with some work and negotation skills you could probably do it for sub £100.

"Normal/Mid Spec" HTPCs
Definition: With the above definition in mind, I define "Mid level" HTPC builds as those that use and have components above and beyond what is needed to have a functional HTPC. What I mean by this are HTPCs with mid level CPUs, components such as SSDs (although in principle this is a must for any HTPC), "Pro" motherboards, etc. Generally a build that I would expect to cost £500-800 and would generally be using the later generational components (ie "i" processors and current gen GPUs)

But why would anyone pay more when it can be done for less?

Well many (like me) adopt a certain "future proof" mindset, and whilst in PC terms this is pointless as all things are out of date within 12 months normally, the idea is that by buying current gen products and mid range products even if you only intend to use it for basic usage, should mean it lasts you longer and work better. Is this worth the financial difference to you? Only you can decide.

example builds;
ShadowBoxers Build
Grangey's Build for a friend

Example Spec list;
£104 CPU
£82 Motherboard
£37 RAM
£37 PSU
£55 Hard Drive (youl want at least one more HDD for media)
£40 Bluray Drive
+ Case

Total= £355 + Case

(Dont forget Windows if thats the OS youve chosen!)

Gaming/High Spec HTPCs
Definition; Anything that doesnt fall into the above, typically these builds would cost in the region of £800+ and be using cpu and gpu power needed for no other purposed in a HTPC except to game or do video editing (although I dont know of many that do this properly in a living room).

Now if you've decided to build a fully fledged Gaming HTPC you will have more to take into account as things like cooling becomes far more important, as does case layout and configurability, GPU size, cooler size, etc etc.
Now, I could go into all this into detail but to be honest the BEST bit of information on Gaming HTPCs is made buy our legendary member Razor- however, Razor has requested the thread closed due to receiving simply too many PM's and questions etc around builds so please DO NOT CONTACT HIM DIRECTLY regarding this.

There are now many knowledgable members on these forums that can help with advise- many like me learned under Razors guidance, others gained their own experience and become masters, either way, please use Razors thread for information purpose only but do not contact him about it out of respect, but feel free to ask questions you have from it in here or start your own thread- and as always dont forget to use the "thank" button in his thead if you found his tutorial useful (youd be mad not to have). The Thread is HERE and is still relevant today and will cover all you need to know on building a gaming HTPC, but when 2012 GPUs are released I will update this thread accordingly.


Example builds;
Grangey's i5 760 Gaming HTPC
Kav's i5 2500k Gaming HTPC build
wolvers Watercooled HTPC
Balforths i5 2500k gaming HTPC


Alternate Builds
Every now and then someone special comes along and decides to do something a little different for their HTPC. Not many have been done on AVF and I dont wish to link to external websites where possible but its worth a google if youre bored, but for the ultimate way of building a PC that will fit in beautifully in your living room, check out;

HTPC Inside an old DVD player anyone? - Think outside the box :)
 
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Grangey.

Distinguished Member
Building your HTPC

How to;

So! You've arrived! All of your components have arrived and you're ready to get to it, but also feeling like youve got a mountain to climb as you dont know where to start.

Now first thing is first, there is no rush to complete this in one go. Take your time and think about where you want to get to. If you're anything like me youl just want to wack it all together and turn it on to see if youre actually capable of building a working PC, but do you know what, you are! Building a PC is as simple as putting lego together it really is, so rather than rushing things taking that little time at the start to think things through and plan things go a long way.


Stage 1- installation of necissity components

Anyway lets get to the build, its worth noting I have shamelessly stolen alot of these pictures from kav's great build up thread which I referenced earlier in this thread- so please thank kav by clicking here once.

So, first things first, get accustomed to your case and where you will be placing things and if youre not sure quite where things go this picture kav made is great

casedetail.png


Next, take it all apart- so remove your HDD holders, your 5'25" bay etc. If your case has a built in card reader and VFD you can leave these in, but you ideally want an exposed case at this stage for ease of access and planning.

Next up, grab your motherboard mounting screws. These will come with your case and are golden so very distinguishable from others.

Without being too forceful for obvious reasons, place your motherboard into the case and look at WHICH holes in the case line up with your motherboard, then fix the motherboard mounting screws to the case accordingly making sure they all line up afterwards. These to not need to be more than finger tight! Dont fix the motherboard down yet though!

case2.png


Now before proceeding you need to think about something- cable management. This isnt really a necessity for every day HTPCs but it does help with airflow- allowing cooler tempuratures, and makes your HTPC just look that much better inside! If this is something you want to do, this will take some thought and trial and error, you may even loose patience, but its worth it in the end.

The main key to cable management is hiding cables under the motherboard to keep them out of the way. For example my case as you can see comes with aload of cables as it is, not to mention the PSU cables;

IMG_0566.jpg


But with some trial and error of putting the motherboard in and out I managed to route my cables so that they were out of the way of everything as much as possible;

img2367m.jpg


Remember, youl have a lot of cables- a sata cable per hard drive and optical drive, usb headers, sata power cables, case fan cables, all those cables from your PSU that your not using (if you havnt gone modular)- this can become a mess VERY quickly so its worth trying to keep on top of it as you go.


Next up, if you have opted to replace the fans that came with the case (good choice), nows the time to replace them. This should be simple, the stock fans should be held on with 4 screws per fan, and your new fans may attach the same way. Many good aftermarket fans though will use rubber screwless fixings instead in to stop any potential chance of vibration noise on the case- these can be a little fiddly but do fit- just follow the instructions- (basically pull through from the back of the case

New fans fitted:

IMG_0558.jpg


Now the next component youl fit will depend honestly on whether you are cable managing or not, if you are the next component should be the PSU- primerily so that you can run the PCI-E cable that will connect to the furthest side of your motherboard typically, underneath the mobo (not to mention any other cables that fit from the PSU which you wont be using- but even if youre not, installing the PSU now means you can have a clearer idea of where the cables will need to run and what to avoid (also, on the assumption youve bought a good PSU that should not fail, it should be one of the last things you ever need to take out of your HTPC so its worth having all other connecting cables (ie sata and USB headers (if not cable managed) going over the PSU cables rather than under).

To fit the PSU, simply insert it into its designated area- ensuring the fan at the side is facing OUT of the case for obvious reasons (so its not sucking in air from inside the case!) and fix with the supplied 4 screws at the rear

case1.png


Ok next up, the fun begins and this is where your nerves may kick in- but breath easy, remember, its just like lego... so lets get to work on the motherboard shall we?

Now I know what youre thinking, this thing looks like you need to be a rocket scientist to understand where to start but actually its very simple- everything has a place and purpose- just remember...lego! So, first lets take a look at whats what shall we?

kav saved me a job by already making this very handy picture- now each motherboard will vary slightly on this (perticularly if they are a different form factor) so some may have less usb headers, sata ports, etc etc but the core of each motherboard is the same as every pc needs the same basic things to work!

mobodetail.png


Now I will obviously walk you through each stage but you will have interaction with everything noted in the above picture with the exception of 9. if you dont have a front panel.

So first up- lets connect the brain to the nervous system- thats the cpu to the motherboard ;)

This is a simple task but none the less something you should pay attention to and refer to the manual of both your motherboard and cpu manual to do it correctly- but before doing so make sure you know the following;
A CPU CAN ONLY FIT ONE WAY AROUND
ie
cpudetail.png

THE PINS THE CPU SIT ON ARE CRITICAL AND SHOULD NEVER BE BENT OR DAMAGED IN ANY WAY- they should all look identical
 
Last edited:

Grangey.

Distinguished Member
CPU in and look like it does here?

cpuinplace.png


Good, see, simple wasnt it ;)

Next up is;

Fitting an aftermarket cooler

if youre not using one and using the stock cooler instead refer to the manual but its normally just a push on jobby.

So, you will need to follow your coolers instructions for these as each to vary quite alot but first things first... attach the backplate

img2373s.jpg


Again a very easy task and should be the only time you ever need to look underneath your motherboard, now from here as I say follow the instructions but you will at some point shortly afterwards need to think about putting the cooler and CPU together- and for this you cant just put metal to metal.

Applying thermal paste

There are many different ways to apply thermal paste which Im not going to go into here but I personally follow the "line" technique or at least the "blob" technique.

I would recommend you watch this video for this process explained


The main thing to remember here is DO NOT USE TOO MUCH, this can actually have an adverse effect and actually cause more heat.

So once you have applied the paste, connect CPU and Cooler together

cooler5.png


and add fans accordingly.... see, that wasnt complicated was it!

I recommend connecting the CPU fans to the motherboard now (dont forget any low noise adapters (LNA) if youre using them!) incase you forget later.

Next up, install the RAM

If you are only using 1 or 2 sticks of a potential 4, you need to remember that duel channel ram works in a 1-3-2-4 layout. So if youre using 2 sticks, you need a stick in slot 1 and 2 obviously but to help you out these are normally colour coded.

img2380th.jpg


Ram in?

Good, time for the installation of it into the case!

This is simple and youve probably already test fitted in, so very simply place the board into the case (dont forget the I/O plate! (the silver plate that comes with your motherboard)) and screw into each mounting point through the designated holes.

img2417e.jpg




Stage two- additional components

Limited instructions needed but pictures required

Software;

Front ends

Blurb on selecting front end for you with link to sticky; http://www.avforums.com/forums/home-entertainment-pcs/1572299-htpc-software-comparison.html

Programs;
Media backup programs (avoiding any discussions of avoiding copy protection- check with mods on what is and isnt allows)
Vurtual clone drives etc
TV Services
Codecs
etc




Configuration;

Linking with the above- programs needed for media types etc

Codec installation
information

Overclocking information;
basics
 
Last edited:

Grangey.

Distinguished Member
Guys as you can see I'm still working through this, but already there are some areas I could do with some user input.

These are;

TV Cards

AMD Processors

and ATI GPUs.

Any knowledgable members able to fill in some of these gaps I would greatly appreciate it :)
 

spacemanc

Active Member
Lots of good info, but personally I would recommend keeping a lot simpler.

Look at the current stickied hardware thread. Its a cluster @#*$ of out of date and inaccurate information, and to keep it constantly updated and accurate would be a nightmare. It might be better to recommend just 4 products for each component type. Eg for CPUs, you can miss out the i7 and Phenoms by adding a note saying 'for gaming or encoding, more powerful CPU's would be more appropriate.

As we know, building a HTPC is easy, but the main problem is the amount of choice and the large amount of information and advice that is available. If you are new to building PC's, then you don't know how to filter all that information and it makes the whole task look very daunting.

Btw, I think that the HD 5450 is obsolete now that the much more capable HD 6450 is available in passive form for basically the same price.
 

Grangey.

Distinguished Member
Thanks spacemanic, you make a fair point, but I also wonder by mentioning the i7s for example whether there is actually any harm in doing so? I didnt want to go into too much detail on either addmittedly so maybe I should just mention the i7 and the market its catered for and thats it...
 

spacemanc

Active Member
Theres no harm in mentioning the i7, and it probably wasn't even the best example, but I feel that you have to draw the line somewhere. Imo it's way too overpowered and expensive for what the vast majority of users are looking for.

I think that the best guides give you the information you want with the least amount of text. Do GPU's even need a section? IGP's have very nearly made them redundant now, but if you wan't a bit more grunt then the HD6450 is a no brainer - if someone needs more than that then it's for gaming, which is outside the scope of the thread? So rather than a having a whole GPU section with a load of options, you now have a line of text explaining IGP's with the option of a GPU.

That's just an example, and I realise that theres a very strong argument for having more info (especially in an 'ultimate' thread), but I think that theres a pretty good case for keeping it very simple too, with just a small selection of good base systems.
 

djcla

Distinguished Member
i believe there is alos mini ATX motherboards to add confusion, but i am pretty sure they are same size as micro atx .
 

RED_

Active Member
Read all of this and it really helped. I plan to build a HTPC for the first time, complete newbie. I was planning to build a PC at some point last year but that fell through, but i did do a lot of research for that so in terms of a desktop, i have an OK grasps on components.

Is it possible to build a nettop? I mean the Revos look pretty slick but they are quiet underpowered. I plan on watching HD maybe Blu-ray films from time to time. TV shows, iPlayer and maybe some live TV if its available. Internet TV that is, don't need a TV tuner or optical drive.

I have freeview for bog standard channels and i can live with that. So i'm thinking some form of the i5 2500k, was going to put that in my desktop. No idea on motherboards, want this build to be fairly small and quiet.

Judging by everything you have detailed i will be building an extremely simple HTPC but so be it. It's only for the 2nd TV. No need for servers, NAS systems and what not. I'll probably get a half decent GPU and about 4GB RAM.

Anyway cheers for doing this, a lot of information here.
 

Grangey.

Distinguished Member
Hi Red,

Sorry I missed your response before. In answer to your question- is it possible to buil a nettop? Yes, anythings possible, but youl find it harder to find components that fit its size restrictions.

Revos arent underpowered at all and I think you may mave missed my point on power- playing back blurays is not a cpu heavy task at all, nore is playing back streamed TV, so an i5 2500K is WAAAY overpowered for anything you will ever need if your talking about this in terms of a HTPC (although I notice you mentioned desktop so im a little confused what youre talking about here). That is a CPU favoured for gamers and you probably wouldnt use more than 15% of its cababilities given what youve said above a prime example of what youre talking about is already availible in the Revo range; for example Acer Revo RL100 3D Ready Nettop PC - 640GB 3GB Blu-ray Windows 7 this wont be the zippiest pc in the world but it would do what youre asking in a very small flat form.

If you wanted something that played back blurays with full hd audio, streamed internet tv, and little more- you could get by with a core2duo processor (775 socket cpu), an ati 5450/6450 gpu, and then a motherboard with appropriate ram and HDD. the processor and mobo you could probably pick up for as little as £60 so it all comes down to priorities.

I would suggest first of all if size is important to you that you try to find a case that means your requirements, from this you can then start to select the appropriate components
 

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