Build a HTPC – How to Guide
Ok , there is some nice place on internet where you can fin a pre-build Media PC nice and quiet. They are a bit expensive though. The best solution, to us, is to go on a website like NewEggs or TigerDirect to get cheap parts and build a HTPC yourself. It is less complicated then it looks like for beginners. The only downside you could face is the noise. To build a complete quiet PC, you will need to do some homework on the fans or the fan-less components. You will have to pay extra attention to the temperature. Generally, people will let their HTPC open 24h/24, so fan-less computers could over heat on long time runs, be sure to check this out. Otherwise, you may want to spend a little more money on quiet fans on your CPU, CASE, POWER SUPPLY and GRAPHIC CARD, if you need one.
CASE / CHASSIS:
Here is one of the most important pieces. If you are careful about aesthetic of your media center, you will pay extra attention here. The first term you will need to know is HTPC, which means Home Theater Personal Computer. So, you should check for HTPC case / chassis, there are plenty of them. Be aware that if you buy a HTPC, you will need to buy the pieces that are build for that occasion: You will have to look for things such as ATX motherboard, M-ATX motherboard, Mini-ITX motherboard, HTPC ready card, or low-profile bracket included (see below). Unfortunately, one of the nicest chassis out there, made a company called Moneual, looks to be discontinued. You might find some of them used on sites like e-bay. Otherwise you can fin very stylish cases here: http://www.quietpc.com/htpccases. They also propose full HTPC configuration, but a bit pricey. The best options still to look for HTPC chassis on newegg / TigerDirect
LOW PROFILE BRACKET:
Low profile brackets will give you the opportunity to securely plug any PCI card into your HTPC. They are smaller then usual brakets and usually looks like these:
We do recommend a bigger CPU then a Dual-Core processor. We tried a solution with an AMD Dual-Core CPU (AMD A4-4000) and figure out the PC was reaching the bottle neck on videos with 1080p resolution with strong encoding (i.e. H264). We have one HTPC with a Quad-Core AMD (AMD A85600K Quad-Core) Processor in it. It is maybe overkill, the CPU is far to reach is maximum load, but you won’t have to worry about jumpy playback anymore. You might want to replace the heat-sink with a more quiet one. But, since we don’t need a strong CPU, the heatsink they provide with it are not loud enough to bother.
If your CPU makes noise than you could check for something like a Coper fan-less heat sink:
Otherwise, you can find some really nice cpu cooler out there. One of our recommendations would be the ones found on http://www.bequiet.com/en/cpucooler:
WARNING: Nowadays, CPU come with Thermal Paste already installed. But, changing the head sink will require you to apply a thermal paste by your own which is a tedious process. If not well applied, it can break your CPU and void the waranty. So install the CPU with care. If there is already Thermal Paste on the CPU you will have to remove it with alcohol isopropyl at more than 70%with a Q-Tip. You can find this in any good pharmacies. After the thermal paste removed put a little dot of thermal paste on the CPU and plug the heat sink over it. Watch video HOW TO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3gx6c62D7I
Since it is a purely video reading machine, you don’t need any fancy Hard Drive like an SSD (Solid-State drive: Super fast driver – no disk: flash memory) or RAID setup (multiple disks combined as one). The biggest advantage you will get with a SSD is the boot time, and the absence of noise. Please note that the lifespan of an SSD is usually shorter than a HDD. One simple hard drive like a 2TB or 4TB drive will do the tricks. Again here you can always try to look for more quiet HDD, but, usually the cheapest HDD could worth it. The size of the HDD only depend of you and how you want to use your HTPC. We recommend to place your videos files directly in your HTPC hard drives to avoid any bottle neck your internet connection could face, especially if you are on WIFI. With the videos on your hard drives, there is almost no wait time on video start up and seek.
Again nothing fancy needed here. RAM is good if you want to put some game in there, or if you plan to read multiple memory intensive applications at the same time. For this kind of setup, a little 4GB of RAM is more than enough.
Nowadays, motherboard can ouput HDMI (See below). If not: you may want to invest in video card that can output DIGITAL video and audio throughout an HDMI Cable. Those card cost no more than 50$ and will output a lose less quality to your TV/Amplifier. This will give you the opportunity to read movies in 1080p up to 7.1 Surround sounds. Also if you look into future, you could check for 4k output video card. 4K Tv are already on the market and sooner or later it will be the standards. Again here you can always try to check for a fan-less GPU card to avoid noise. Just check they will fit in your case arrangement.
If your CPU is not strong enough, you can help it with what we call Hardware Acceleration. It will remove some load of the CPU and give it to the GPU. Be aware that in linux world Hardware Acceleration can be very painful to setup and on some card it is absolutely nonexistent. Be sure to know what your doing and read on the card you want to buy about that and the codec it can handle. We would suggest to buy a better CPU with a basic GPU Integrated and decode everything with software (CPU) to avoid some painful setup.
If you plan on playing games with your HTPC, it could be a good option to buy a good graphic Card. Before buying, just check if for drivers for Linux. Usually Nvidia has better support for Linux drivers than AMD.
If you want to skip the video card process and have less heat / more space in your case, you can check for a motherboard with an HDMI output and CPU with a graphic card embedded. Otherwise, you can always buy VGA to Component Cables combines to Audio Optical Cable:
HDMI VS Optical: “The simplest advice is to go with HDMI when you can. But if you can’t it’s not the end of the world.“: http://www.cnet.com/news/hdmi-vs-optical-which-digital-audio-connection-to-use/
WARNING CPU SOCKETS: if you buy AMD Processor with FM2 Socket you need motherboard that support FM2 SOCKET for processors. So: Check for you motherboard/processor sockets type and be careful to buy the motherboard/processor that match with it.
Here is an important point that you need to check. Your motherboard as to fit in your HTPC chassis. To do so, check your chassis specification and be sure the size is supported. Here is the main different motherboard sizes:
Side note: It is always good to have a motherboard with USB3 or E-Sata Ouputs if you plan to install any additional hard drive (Full topic here: External E-Sata / USB3 Additional Hard Drives).
There is a great chance your case will come with a Fan. If not, you have to get one. This is usually very cheap, but it could worth to spend a little extra on a quiet one. Again on http://www.bequiet.com/en/casefans, you will find a very nice selection.
BLURAY DVD PLAYER:
This is very important. Just buy it if you don’t already have one.
WIRELESS PCI CARD:
If you don’t have the opportunity to plug-in any cable close to the TV, you could always buy a card like these for less 20$. They will give you a lot less speed than a hot wire solution, but can be way enough if you don’t plan to stream any video on your home network: which we don’t recommend due to the amount of data to stream a 1080p video.
BLUETHOOTH ( AND WIRELESS ) PCI CARD:
A good addition could be bluethooth + wireless in one card. Could always be useful if you plan to use your wireless PS3 Controller or your smartphone / tablet to control your HTPC.
Keyboard / Mouse:
You can find cheap keyboard/mouse for about 5$. Sometime to debug stuff, or just check some information, you will be thankful to have a keyboard and a mouse around.
Remote Infrared Controller:
You will definitely want one. See topic here: Infrared Remote Controller
Additional Hard Drives:
If you plan on installing a lot of 1080p videos onto your hard drives, you can add a box with it’s own power supply and put a couple more drives. It is also the reason you might want USB3 or e-Sata output of the motherboard. See topic here: Additional Data Installation.
————————— Once you’ve build your perfect custom HTPC you are ready to install an operating system. Go and check Which Operationg System to choose for your HTPC. Linux is Free and you could be amazed by some of the distribution out there. Here is a guide How to install Ubuntu : the information there could be useful if you plan to install XBMCbuntu, or any other Linux distribution.