What is a HTPC anyways?
Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series? Catch up on them here:
- Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
- Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
- Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
- Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
- Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options
Continuing with our series on Cutting the Cord and building your own HTPC, we move beyond the "Assessment Phase" we discussed in part one and into the realm of actually building your own Home Theater PC with Windows 7 Media Center. In Part 2, we walk through our hardware picks for our HTPC. But before we dive headlong into that, I need to get something off my chest.
My Experience: /rant on. When I first planned to write this article, I thought it would be interesting to write a new HTPC building guide soon after Windows 8 was released in order to spotlight Windows 8 Media Center. While I initially had some concerns with Microsoft’s choice of separating Media Center from Windows 8 itself, and some other issues I heard rumor of, my own experience attempting to build a Windows 8 Media Center would push this long time Microsoft fan to the limits. Long story short, I spent nearly two days working up the article and building a Windows 8 Media Center only to come to terms with the fact that Microsoft has so jacked with some of the key features of Media Center in Windows 8 that I can’t recommend anyone use it. With that being said, I had to start over from scratch, rebuilding my HTPC with Windows 7 and doing a complete rewrite of the article. I want to thank Microsoft for showing us that they care more about cramming the Metro UI down our throats than they care about the passionate Media Center community that has rallied around and supported them these many years. Anyways, /rant off and back to our previously schedule HTPC building guide.
The market is currently littered with all manners of bringing content to your television set. There are devices that help you manage your current cable/satellite television subscription such as TiVo, Xbox with Verizon FIOS, Xbox with Comcast XFinity, or even the Google TV . There’s devices out there that give you access to additional features above and beyond your television viewing such as the Apple TV, the Roku, or the Boxee Box. There’s even a slew of “Smart TV’s” and Streaming Sticks that will turn any TV into a Smart TV that are loaded with applications to overlay content or get access to other services. For the hardcore DiY crowd, there’s also some other options to build your own devices with distributions like MythTV or XBMC (Xbox Media Center).
With so many new boxes, devices and options hitting the street just about every day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood of options. Luckily Veronica Belmont’s Mega Set Top Box List is still being maintained and has some great information to help you weed through the mess.
With so many options, many of which are $100 or less, you’d think that building a $500-$700 Media Center PC is overkill. Unfortunately many of these devices will not do everything you want them to do and I’ve not found anything that combines all the capabilities and functions I wanted into a single package as good as Windows Media Center (though the new Boxee TV Box might be a new contender on the block.) Building and running your own Media Center offers the flexibility and power all in one package to meet every scenario you could throw at it. You’re not stuck waiting for some developer to get around to writing new firmware or applications to add in support for what you want. If you can View, Read or Watch it on a Windows desktop, then you can most likely get it working directly through Windows Media Center. I still don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t licensed or even produced their own device with their excellent Media Center UI.
Subject: General Tech | September 16, 2012 - 12:16 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: ssd, small form factor, SFF, nuc, Ivy Bridge, Intel, htpc
Earlier this year, Intel showed off a small motherboard and processor combination that piqued the interest of many enthusiasts and attendees. The rather oddly named Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PC was originally intended to power digital signage, kiosks, and embedded systems (car PC anyone?). However, in response to the interest shown by enthusiasts, the x86 chip giant has decided to bring the super-small form factor computers to retail.
The Next Unit of Computing PC’s main attraction is its small size: the motherboard is tiny, measuring a mere 4” x 4.” For reference, the mini-ITX standard is a 6.7” x 6.7” motherboard, and VIA’s Pico-ITX form factor boards measure 3.9” x 2.7.” In that respect, the NUC is not the smallest PC that you can build, but it will be the fastest – and by a significant margin thanks to the bundled Ivy Bridge CPU.
While i3 and i5 editions were allegedly designed, currently Intel is only bringing the i3 to the retail market. Specifically, the CPU powering the NUC will be an Intel Core i3-3217U Ivy Bridge processor, and it will be soldered onto the motherboard. That particular CPU is a 1.8GHz dual core/four thread part with 3MB cache, and Intel HD 4000 graphics (there is no Turbo Boost functionality). Not bad for a small form factor PC!
Image credit: PC Pro.
The boards will have two SO-DIMM slots for RAM, an mSATA port for an SSD, and a mini-PCIe slot for a Wi-FI card. Intel is making two versions of the NUC motherboard that will differ only in IO. One motherboard will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 HDMI output, and 1 Thunderbolt port. The other board will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2 HDMI outputs, and one Gigabit Ethernet jack. Intel believes that the Thunderbolt-equipped model will be more popular with consumers while the Gigabit-Ethernet and dual HDMI model will be used more by businesses.
Intel is reportedly sourcing several chassis designs for its custom form factor motherboard (there are at least two cases at present), and you will be able to build out a barebones system with one of the custom cases, integrated heatsink, and power supply. Additionally, when spec'ed out with the Intel i3-3217U CPU, 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi card, and a 40GB Intel SSD, the company expects the entire NUC computer to cost around $399 in the US. The parts will be available for purchase in October, according to Engadget.
Hopefully, we will see OEMs take this form factor and make something cool with it. It's not clear which specific OEMs will be first to bring pre-built systems to market but they should be coming in the future.
Personally, I’m a big fan of small form factor computers, and despite the odd “NUC” name I’m excited to see where Intel takes this platform. If you were looking for a small but powerful computer to drive your next project, it might be worth keeping an eye on the NUC. What do you think of this sub $400, approximately 5” (with case) PC?