Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC - The Hardware
The Hardware - Part 2
Looking at the costs to build your own HTPC, you can see that your return on investment can add up really quick depending on what you are currently paying for pay television service, especially if you already have some components that you don’t have to purchase. So let’s talk a bit about each component and why I went with them.
CPU - AMD A6-5400K Trinity 3.6 GHz (3.8 GHz Turbo) FM2 65 Watt APU
Honestly, any CPU from the last few years has more than enough horsepower to run Media Center, but the AMD A6-5400K brings some extra perks to the table. First, it has two 32nm 3.6GHz cores with a shared 1 MB L2 Cache. With a low power consumption of 65 watts and a great integrated Radeon 7540D GPU, it saves us the trouble of having to go with a discrete graphics card. All this for under $75 and you have yourself a great processor for a HTPC.
Motherboard – MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 / Micro ATX
I’m a big fan of MSI’s motherboards in general and the FM2-A75MA-E35 is no exception. This FM2 socket A75 chipset motherboard is loaded with functionality packed into a small Micro ATX form factor package. Able to support up to 16 GB of RAM, 3 PCI Express (1 x16, 2 x1) cards, 6 6Gb/s SATA and 8 USB (2 USB 3.0, 6 USB 2.0) ports it has more than enough connectivity for our HTPC needs. The integrated HDMI port will let us pump our Audio/Video from our APU direct to our TV or Receiver. While I wouldn’t choose this board for a gaming machine, it’s an excellent option for any small form factor build.
Case – Silverstone ML03B Media Center/HTPC Case
Throw the four letters “HTPC” onto any case and it seems to magically bump the price up by 50% - 100%. Many HTPC cases will come with a power supply, and while this may seem like a good place to cut some costs of your HTPC build, the power supplies that come with these cases are often no name knock off brands that I’d be wary to use in a machine that will be running nearly 24x7 for months on end. This Micro ATX case surprisingly has the capability to fit a ton of components. You just need to understand that putting in certain components may block the installation of others. For example, the case allows you to use a full ATX power supply, but if you do that can cannot fit an optical drive in the 5.25” external bay (which I found out from first hand experience.) Regardless, at $60, the Silverstone case can easily disguise your Media Center as just another component in your home theater setup. Of course, if the HTPC is going to be hidden away and not visible, there’s no reason you can’t use any case you want. Overall the ML03B case is great home for your HTPC.
Power Supply – Rosewill Capstone Series 450 M 450 Watt Modular PSU
As you may already know, Rosewill is Newegg’s house brand. Being a house brand, they can be hit or miss on the quality of components. The Capstone series of power supplies are actually manufactured by a company named Super Flower who not only makes many their own power supplies, produce power supplies for many other brand names vendors. While you may be worried about using a power supply from a vendor you haven’t heard from before, you can be comforted by the fact there is 5 year warranty on the unit. The 450 watt unit is modular, so you don’t need to deal with extraneous cables in your case. Throw in 80 Plus Gold Certification with 87-92% efficiency and nice big 140mm fan for quiet cooling and you have what appears to be a great low power/HTPC power supply. One thing to note, if you do plan to use a full 5.25” optical drive in your build, you really should look for a “Micro ATX” power supply as opposed to using a full ATX PSU.
SSD – Crucial Real SSD C300 – 128 GB (Optional)
I’ve listed the SSD as an optional piece of a HTPC build because you can just as easily install Windows 7 and Media Center on your large spindle drive that you’ll be using for storage. Adding a SSD as our boot drive will make booting and loading extremely fast as well as just give things an overall snappier feel. The Crucial Real SSD C300 is a MLC drive that I picked up a year or two ago for another machine. With read speeds of up to 355 MB/sec and write speeds of up to 140 MB/sec, it certainly is not the fastest drive on the market. (As a matter of fact, it’s not even on the market anymore, but I’m always interested in reusing hardware I have lying around if at all possible.) Since we’re just installing the Operating System, Media Center and doing some TV buffering on the SSD, you can get away with the smaller sized SSD. Just as an aside, my base install of Windows 7 Home Premium with Media Center and fully patched took up just under 24 GB of space on my SSD. Here are a few newer and better options that might be worth a look:
- Intel 330 Maple Crest SSDSC2CT120A3K5 120GB SSD - $109.99
- Samsung 830 Series MZ-7BPC064D/AM 64 GB SSD – $79.99
DVR/Storage Drive – Western Digital AV-GP WD20EURS 2 TB Hard Drive
Recording television, high definition in particular, can really chew up your storage in a hurry. One hour of high definition television recorded in the proprietary video/audio format that Media Center uses called WTV (Windows Recorded TV Show) will use 8 to 9 GB of storage space while one hour of standard definition television will use up just a bit over 1 GB. You can see where using that SSD for recording television could run into problems in a hurry. The WD AV-GP line of hard drives are built specifically for use in PVR’s, DVR’s, surveillance video recording and other ‘always-on’ audio/video recording environments. With 64 MB Cache, low noise and low power use, this a great drive that can store over 200 hours of high definition nearly 1500 hours of standard definition content.
My Experience: Setting up this drive in my Media Center actually gave me 1862 GB of useable storage that was calculated to be able to store 219 Hours of HD or 1455.5 hours of SD recordings.