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Building a Home Theater PC Part 2 – Selecting and Installing the Components

Written on Feb 22, 2010 by Jesse Raab and filed under News

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of Jesse Raab’s multi-part series on constructing your own home theater PC. This section covers the components selected and how to assemble them. Be sure to read part1 to learn more about the expectations and duties of the home theater PC.

The Components

Motherboard – Zotac GF9300-AE – $110
Intel Wolfdale e5300 -$70
Antec NSK1480 -$120
OCZ Vertex 30gb SSD -$130
Windows media remote/IR Receiver -$20
PNY 2gb RAM -$45
Total before tax and rebates – 495

The choice of motherboard, CPU and case all went hand in hand for me. The difference in price between a microATX Zotac board with a Wolfdale 5300 and a similar Zotac board with a dual core Atom processor was minimal. I chose to go with the slightly more powerful machine thus giving me a little more headroom for any CPU intensive tasks I have such as watching fullscreen HD Flash video on Hulu. For an additional upgrade in price I could have shrunk the form factor down to a miniITX board, but in the end the money was harder to give up than a little extra space. This board has an integrated Nvidia 9300 chipset. This graphics chipset supports VDPAU hardware decoding of HD and should perform flawlessly with non-flash HD video. Also while building this machine Adobe did release a new Flash version that allows some offloading of the decoding to the graphics card.

Once these pieces were chosen the rest of the machine pretty much just fell into place. I looked for the cheapest RAM I could find, which unfortunately at the moment wasn’t all that cheap. Originally my plan was to use an inexpensive 80-160GB Western Digital hard drive but after reading a number of glowing reviews on the OCZ Vertex 30gb SSD I decided to splurge and include it in this build. I would also need an IR receiver and remote to control this whole thing and for that I chose an off-brand Windows Media Center remote.

Finally I would need something to house all these components. Choosing the Antec NSK1480 was one of the harder choices I had to make. There were a number of cheaper options, particularly if I had gone for a miniITX form factor. There are also a large number of higher end cases from people like Silverstone and Lian-Li that I really liked but couldn’t fit in my budget. This Antec case was in the middle of these ranges but still looked like it would fit in with my audio/video equipment. It comes with 3 fans, but am only using the two near the CPU and unplugging the one that is meant to blow across the hard drives because my SSD will produce little heat, and airflow through the case should be fine without it. This will help me cut down on the noise of the system as well. The Antec also comes with a 350W power supply. While it won’t be the most silent power supply, Antec makes well regarded power supplies, and this one is 80Plus certified.

In the end I spent just under $500 for the whole package, but I’m expecting about $70 back in rebates. I originally budgeted about $325 for this machine and the drastic overshoot was mostly due to upgrades from an Atom based system with a standard hard drive to a Wolfdale system with a SSD drive and a slightly more expensive case than I had originally planned. A similar performing machine with a less flashy case and standard hard drive could easily be done for 350 or less. A machine with performance near this can also be purchased off the shelf. The Asrock Ion 330 is a solid option, and more machines in this class will likely be on the way.

The Build

This won’t be an exhaustive look at how to put together a computer, there are plenty of excellent tutorials out there which cover that subject better than I can. I will include a few pictures and descriptions of the process. I first rounded up all the components (which is a favorite part for me).

After unboxing everything and setting out a little workspace I began the assembly. Everything went together smoothly. I used the included stock cooler for my CPU which fit well (and I measured to check that it would fit in the case I had). I placed the motherboard in the case and set to the task of hooking up all the case wiring and cleaning up the case.

While I like this case a lot it is very tight, and is best left to people who have put a few computers together. This case would be really tight if using a DVD player and two 3.5 inch hard drives. The location of the power connection on my motherboard makes installing the DVD cage very difficult. I have a Blu-ray drive in my main desktop that I considered putting in the HTPC, but the cramped nature of the DVD cage persuaded me to leave it out. In the end I was pleased with the way this build went, and despite my notorious inability to manage my cables well I was for once able to get the case looking pretty clear. Additionally the face plate on the case is silver, and since very few DVD players come with a silver face plate your DVD player will likely stick out very obviously. This may bother you, although some with this case like the black and silver offsetting look. All together this build went pretty quickly and I was finished in under an hour.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll discuss the final testing, software and performance of the system.

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2 Responses to “Building a Home Theater PC Part 2 – Selecting and Installing the Components”

  1. How does it sound? What did you use for speakers?

  2. I’m running the digital output from the computer to my a/v receiver, just like I do with my dvd player and satellite box. The sound is pretty comparable to those to my ears. I’ve been using it to play a lot of Pandora internet radio and the quality is very nice.

    By Jesse on Mar 10, 2010 | Reply

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