Categorized | How To Articles

The Definitive Build Your Own Guide: HTPC Components

Posted on 18 November 2012 by sam

If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the shops, it’s time to build your own. In this article, I’ll give you a short overview of all the components in a home theater PC (HTPC) and provide you with some good picks.

The cost of HTPC components can be prohibitive. Buying everything at once can easily cost you $1000. So here are a few ways to save money:

  • Don’t buy what you don’t need. For instance, it’s easy to spend a lot on a graphic card for 3D gaming, but if you’re not sure yet whether you’ll use the HTPC for gaming, it’s best to hold out and find a cheap solution for now.
  • Re-use what you have. It’s not always easy or feasible, but if you’ve got a computer that you no longer use, you can upgrade the parts that need upgrading and leave the others as-is for now. That’s what I did and for $200 I got a nice HTPC.

In the next sections, I do a few suggestions, but don’t let that limit you. The options in hardware are endless. There is no right or wrong choice. No “best” component.

The Processor

The heart of your machine. If you’re starting from scratch, pick a CPU with an integrated graphics card so you do not have to buy a separate one. The high-end choice even has enough graphics power to play most recent games.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B005I2YL4G,B004EBUXHQ” color_theme=”Default” columns=”2″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”False” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Possible add-on: a silent cooler.

The Motherboard

When you’re picking a motherboard, the most important thing is that it matches your CPU. Make sure the “socket” of your CPU is supported by your motherboard.

Aside from these two, you also need to determine the number of memory slots, the supported storage devices and configuration, the LAN speed, and the form factor. The form factor will determine what cases you can buy. See the section below for more information.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B005JI5B9I,B00518M74I” color_theme=”Default” columns=”2″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”False” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Memory

The price of the memory may vary depending on the capacity and the brand. The good news is that they are affordable so do take advantage of the low price.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B002TUQ1P2″ color_theme=”Default” columns=”1″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Hard Drive

Many home theater systems have two hard drives. The first, smaller and faster, one is for loading the operating system and other applications while the second hard drive is solely for recorded television and other media.

The Wester Digital Green is a good choice with plenty of room for the money.

A Solid State Drive (SSD), like the Mushkin one, may be a good option for the primary drive to hold the operating system and applications. But only consider that if you’ve got plenty of money left over after all the other components are bought.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B005CGFU4I,B004RORMF6″ color_theme=”Default” columns=”2″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Optical Drive

Most optical drives on the market are available in Blu-ray, CD, or DVD. Some HTPC cases may require a slim, laptop-type drive. Keep that in mine when buying.

Personally, I’d just skip the optical drive, but if you want one, even Blu-ray writers aren’t that expensive.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B004LPLE50″ color_theme=”Default” columns=”1″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

TV Tuners

If you’d like to add live TV capabilities to your HTPC, you will also need a TV capture and tuner card. We will discuss these in a separate article on PVR components.

Computer Case

An important consideration is that the motherboard should fit into the case. There are three popular motherboard sizes: ATX, micro ATX and mini ITX. So you either need to pick a case that fits your choice of motherboard or work the other way around and match your motherboard to your preferred case.

Picking a case is something very personal. The choice is virtually endless, but here are two popular ones I like:

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B005HGPPG6,B0035FIS2O” color_theme=”Default” columns=”2″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

If you’re in Europe and looking for a budget ATX choice. The previously reviewed MS-Tech MC-380 is also a solid pick.

Power supply

If it wasn’t included with your computer case, you’ll need to buy a separate one. Again, you need to make sure that it fits the motherboard and that it supplies enough power for your entire system. For most HTPC, something in the 400Watt range will be plenty, but if you intend to add a lot of hard drives or capture and graphics cards, you may need to go higher.

A modular power supply makes it easier to install in small cases, but they usually cost a lot more. Is it worth the money? Usually not.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B006I2H05M” color_theme=”Default” columns=”1″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Quiet PC has a great section explaining the different options in more detail.

Wireless keyboard and remote

You’ll need a mouse and keyboard to configure your system. Once set up, it will depend on how you use the HTPC.

Some models of wireless keyboard and remote have a built-in trackball mouse for convenient operation of the player. The trackball will come in handy when using the keyboard.

Some software also has applications for smartphones, in that case a keyboard and remote are entirely optional.

[amazon_my_favorites design=”2″ width=”250″ title=”” market_place=”US” ASIN=”B005DKZTMG, B00224ZDFY” color_theme=”Default” columns=”2″ rows=”1″ outer_background_color=”” inner_background_color=”” background_color=”” border_color=”” header_text_color=”#FFFFFF” linked_text_color=”” body_text_color=”” shuffle_products=”True” show_image=”True” show_price=”True” show_rating=”True” rounded_corners=”False”/]

Operating System and Media Software

We will cover software options in a later article. If you are buying hardware, you may want to consider adding on a OEM license of Windows with Media Center. It’s the easiest way to get started right away.

Conclusion

Feel free to share your favorite choice in the forum.