( Last Revised on Sep/02/12 )
This is a very lovely little Home Theater PC that I had a chance to work on recently (mid-2012). The hardware parts can easily be purchased in many retail or online stores, which makes it a perfectly great configuration for the mainstream users.
If you are looking for low-profile Home Theater PC (HTPC) to fit in the living room, I definitely think you should take a look at this system specifications. The whole configuration is flexible that it can be as low as $350 to $400 or the upper range of $500 to a maximum $600.
This petite HTPC can play Blu-ray discs, be able to connect up to two HD screens simultaneously and even meet the strict demands of some 3D modern games. She could also be a DLNA media, file or private web server to keep your personal entertainment data accessible through smart devices.
AMD A8-3870K APU with AMD Radeon 6550 HD
Thermaltake Element Q
HyperX 8 GB (2×4 GB Modules) 1600 MHz DDR3 Dual Channel Kit
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB
Samsung Blu-Ray Combo / DVD Writer
|7.Processor (limited budget)|
AMD A6-3500 APU with AMD Radeon 6530 HD
|8.DVD Drive (limited budget)|
Samsung SH-222BB/BEBE 22X DVD Writer
|9.SSD (optimal performance)|
OCZ 60GB Agility 3
|10.Media Card Reader|
74-in-1 Card Reader with USB 3.0 Port
Asus Wireless N 150 Mbps PCIe Card
MI-008 Tower Black P4 Chassis with 250W
|13.TV Tuner Card|
Hauppauge 1187 WinTV-HVR-1250 Hybird PCI-Ex1 TV Tuner 1187
|14.Low Profile CPU Cooler|
Thermaltake Slim X3 Low Profile 36mm Height CPU Cooler
In this configuration, we are strictly aiming for an energy-efficient processor yet it must show sufficient power to run the system smoothly without any significant hiccup. Due to the nature of an HTPC, it is strongly a requirement for this system to generate as little heat as possible. With this in mind, we have to reduce the amount of fans, and limit the count of internal components. Thus you should avoid having a dedicated video card just to meet the graphics rendering demands.
The Intel i3 2nd Gen was the first potential candidate on my list, and it looks really good on paper. However, further research reveals the existence of AMD counterpart that I often pay less attention before: the AMD APU 3870k socket FM1. Custom PC Guide dot net did a short introduction of APU (Accelerated Processing Unit – processor that has integrated graphics chipset) in Choosing an AMD or Intel Processor for Your Custom Computer, and it turns out APU is the actually the best role for this system build.
The AMD APU A8 X4 3870k has plenty of power and runs shoulder to shoulder with the Intel i3 2nd Gen processors (A8-3870K vs. Core i3-2105 CPU Review by hardwaresecrets). Both Intel i3 and APU processors are energy-efficient CPU and perfectly fit for Home Theater PC system. The 3870k does slightly draw a bit more watts than i3 but I think that is very a small trade for a far better integrated graphics chipset (A8-3870k Gaming Performance Benchmarks by bit-tech). Even without the dedicated graphics card, this system can tackle many 3D games at ease. It’s a very welcome bonus.
It is much more difficult to find a good motherboard for HTPC. First it must be small (obviously), preferably ITX-size. You gotta look at those ITX motherboards they are so funny tiny like a roach :D ! Second, the motherboard has to support socket FM1 in order to accept the APU A8 X4 3870k processor we choose. Third, it must be reliable and stable under slow airflow environment.
The Custom PC Guide dot net team came up with Asrock A75M-ITX motherboard. Asrock does a good job packing decent options into this board while asking for a very reasonable price. It has four SATA III 6Gb/s, four USB 3.o ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1 HD Audio chipset, with 1 x VGA and 1 x HDMI outputs. That means the motherboard takes full speed advantage of the Solid State Drive, cuts cost for additional sound card and network interface card as well as giving a very fair amount of USB ports for its user.
Thermaltake offers HTPC owners the Element Q case and it does look very nice on this setup. The case comes with a 200w power supply thus it takes care of the power source requirement. The front panel is quite simple with a flip door that covers two USB 2.0 ports and the standard Audio/Microphone jacks.
On the other hand, APEX also contributes their own HTPC chassis, the MI-008 P4. It is quite similar to the Element Q, the major difference is the 250w power supply. The Element Q is a bit more pricey but some of us may prefer the its unique and low-profile design. I leave this option to you, let me know in the comment section which case you like better and why :)
If none of these cases catches your attention, why not give it another shot at Top 6 Most Silent Computer Cases for Quiet Computing article. Those cases are mid-towers but they do have great aesthetic look plus a more roomy interior space.
It won’t fulfill as a HTPC without this DVD writer/Bluray reader. The reason we pick this Samsung drive is first for its reliability, and second is the aesthetic design of the front panel. It has the glossy door that brings out the elegant look of your HTPC. You can remove this option if you only find the need for a regular DVD Drive.
You will have 2TB of disk space for media storage. The Seagate 2TB LP is a energy-efficient mechanical drive that has variable speed range. It slows down on idle and raises the rpm on high load. You gain two key benefits from this feature : saving power and reducing internal heat.
Another optional add-on is to place a Solid State Drive into the configuration. This removes the main bottle neck of data transfer rate at conventional drive level. Operating system will be installed on SSD to increase application responsiveness and decrease windows load time. It might be important for a Home Theater PC if you want a quick startup system and instant playbacks.
Meanwhile, all personal data such as music, video and document files will be stored separately on the secondary hard drive. Therefore you do not have put all your eggs into the basket. For example if windows crashes, you simply have to run a fresh installation without worrying too much about conveniently deleting all your important files at the same time.
If you decide to go with a SSD, don’t forget to optimize your Solid State Drive for the best performance condition possible!
Recommended Reading : Round-up of The Best and Fastest Mainstream Solid State Drives from 7 Reputable Brands
HTPC usually does not need more than 4GB of memory but since the cost difference between 4GB and 8GB kit is not very high at the moment, you might as well do now to rid of the need for near future memory upgrade. The motherboard can handle up to 16GB but it is not necessary for a Home Theater system.
The Hauppauge TV Tuner Card is sometimes an essential part for an HTPC, sometimes not. It is all up to the need of its owner. If you want to watch over-the-air NTSC, ATSC, Clear QAM on your computer, go for it. The box contains the Remote control that you can have fun on your couch instead of that ever chair. Keep note that you will have to assemble the low-profile bracket to install this device into the ITX case.
You may also need a media card reader or wireless adapter to connect to your home network (unless you can run wire to the Gigabit Ethernet port). That may bring the total cost a bit more but it shouldn’t break the bank while giving you more useful add-ons for your Home Theater box.
Related Build : $800 / $1200 Hybrid Gaming HTPC