Super Duper HTPC

I'm planning on building a PC which will let me use it as
1. HTPC (1080p/BD capable)
2. Regular PC (browsing, VPN, 1 or 2 Virtual machines, regular software)
3. Very little Gaming (not sure what i'm talking about as i'm not a gamer, but want to try).

These are some of the features I'm hoping this "box" should have, I'm new to building PCs (but I'm a sys admin and quite savvy w/ hardware/software installation). I wanted some input as to what kind of hardware should I buy for this device starting from:
1. HTPC Case (room for 3 or 4 3.5" drives and enough cooling)
2. MotherBoard
3. Processor (should i just get a core 2 duo or Phenom or get a Quad core - overkill?)
4. Graphics Card (is it even needed if we use IGP chipset like AMD 780/790 or Intel G45)
5. Blue Ray ROM (DVD/CD R/W) - LG unit?
6. 2 x TV Tuner Card (ability to schedule and record TV shows and Hulu) - hauppauge?
7. 802.11g/n support w/ Gigbit NIC
8. Decent sound card (7.1)
9. 4gb of RAM w/ room for more (in case of going 64 bit later).
10. Open to adding extra cooling.
11. Remote control for all this? Gyration or similar?
12. Use Vista Ultimate or Win Home Server? or anything else?

I understand this is probably too much to ask for and not even sure if I'm making sense here! My apologies if some of this stuff doesn't make sense. But any suggestions on these hardware will be greatly appreciated and will speed my process! Thanks much for your attention!
emkaydAsked:
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Gary CaseConnect With a Mentor RetiredCommented:
An 1800 will not let you record one channel and watch another.   While it does have both analog and digital tuners, it can only use one-at-a-time.   The 2250 is a much better choice -- it's got two sets of tuners, so you can record one channel while watching another ... and either can be analog or digital.   I have 3 2250's in my HTPC  [so we can record 6 channels at a time ... or watch one and record 5 others (can you spell "overkill" ?? :-)  ]

As for your HTPC ... there are lots of choice, but here's a few suggestions that would work well (these are what I used for my most recent HTPC build):

Case:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129055
Motherboard:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128358
CPU:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115036
Memory:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148212
Video:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814125250
(This is plenty for an HTPC ... if you want to have more gaming capability, use a higher-end card -- I used this one because it doesn't have a fan and QUIET was a major design factor for my HTPC)
CPU Heatsink:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835118019
(better than stock ... and QUIET)
BluRay drive:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827106270
Power Supply:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151056
Tuner cards:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815116037
(I bought 3 of these -- you may want fewer; and you likely want to buy one with the MCE kit for a remote control ... I already had the remote)
Hard Drives:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136351
[I have 3 of these ... there's room in the case for another :-) ]
Keyboard/Mouse:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823172022
(This is a GREAT pair)

A few comments ...

=>  You don't need a quad core.   Use an E8400/8500/8600 ... plenty of "horsepower" and runs much cooler than a quad.

=>  You don't need a high-end video card unless you want to turn this into a gaming machine.   The card I noted is fine ... it's got hardware H.264 assist, which is the key thing you need for BluRay.

=>  I use the onboard NICs (wired is always better and more reliable than wireless) ... but any good 802.11n adapter would be fine.   The onboard NIC is gigabit (as is my LAN)

=>  You'll want more than one tuner card ... maybe not 3, but I'd definitely get two.   It's very nice to be able to watch something and still record a couple other channels.   I'm glad I got 3 ... and am toying with adding a 4th :-)

=>  The onboard sound is very good ... listen to it before you bother to buy an add-in card.   I bought a Creative X-Fi card, but didn't bother to use it (just put it in another system).

=>  My HTPC is dual-boot between Vista Ultimate with the VMC Tuner Pack and XP with Beyond TV.   I played with both for a while ... but we now use Beyond TV, as it has much better support for the Hauppauge cards.   You might want to read my comments in this thread r.e. some issues with 2250's and Vista Media Center (works great ... but you really need 3 cards to get ClearQAM working well):  http://www.experts-exchange.com/Digital_Living/Hardware/Home_Theater/Wiring_Accessories/Q_24025911.html?sfQueryTermInfo=1+10+2250+garycas+hauppaug
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that1guy15Commented:
I posted a similar ? a while back and got some good feedback. This might be a good starting point for you.

http://www.experts-exchange.com/Digital_Living/Hardware/Q_23356538.html

Let me know if there is anything else you have a question about.

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My name is MudSystems EngineerCommented:
>>MotherBoard
Anything with Intel chipset might be good...

>>3. Processor (should i just get a core 2 duo or Phenom or get a Quad core - overkill?)
If you're not a player... why a quad???...

>>6. 2 x TV Tuner Card (ability to schedule and record TV shows and Hulu) - hauppauge?
You just answer it your self... They have combo cards, 1 digital 1 analog tuners...

And looks like you're gonna need a big power supply... >500W I suggest...
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
I was looking at WinTV-HVR-1800 MC Kit, any other better options other than this? So this card would let me watch a channel and record another simultaneously right?

I was thinking of Quad core because i will be running virtual machines on this box but I understand it will get noisy and hot!
And you recommend the G45? w/ Core2Duo E8500 maybe? This should be able to handle 1080p w/ no frame loss or delays right?
Any graphics card needed on top of this?
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My name is MudSystems EngineerCommented:
About the record and watch... I just don't know... we use those products for production line, and they're mostly use for testing patterns... and trust me... they're on 24/7 and the problems are mostly the PC, not the winTVs...

nVidia cards are top notch... just check what type of card you must buy according to the mobo's PCIs...

http://www.globalcomputer.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3940038&CatId=1572
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My name is MudSystems EngineerCommented:
I my self would probably go for a clean mobo with lots of PCIx slots, but today is hard to find one of those,
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Yes I agree but I want a mobo w/ DDR3 support (even though it won't make difference for HTPC but it will when running virtual machines). Also I will be recording HD tv so if i'm not using an external graphics card then this onboard mobo graphics should be able to handle 1080p at bluray bitrate.

What about nVidia Geforce chipsets?
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
... you don't need DDR3 (won't hurt ... but definitely not necessary)

... and I don't recommend using integrated graphics.   If you must, use a board with the nVidia 9400 (e.g. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128363 ) => the Intel G45 series has some notable issues with HD/BluRay display.   Plenty of warnings in the AVS forums.   I built a system with the Intel G45 board (this one: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121355 ), but just use it as a spare system -- it had too many issues as an HTPC.  The updated BIOS versions are somewhat better, but if I was going to use an IGP board, I'd used the Gigabyte 9400 board I just referred to.
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Wow! Thanks Garycase! Yea seriously I don't know how to spell overkill! :-)
I think I will use exactly those hardware, but what would you suggest if I can splurge a little bit more on the MoBo and graphics card (but w/o a fan if thats possible)? Thanks once again, you are my savior!
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
One of the guys in newegg says HDCP is not enabled on this graphics card and can't play bluray, is that true?
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
I can think of no reason to use a higher-end motherboard;  but if you one that uses DDR3, this should work well:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128348

If you want a higher-end graphics card you might step up to this:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102802
... or even this:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102830

... but remember that the higher-end the card, the more heat it generates; which means the fans will be running (and thus the HTPC will not be as quiet).   If I wanted to upgrade to higher end graphics, I'd use the 4850 ... PLENTY of gaming power for most of us (certainly for those of us who aren't really "gamers")
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
... the HD4550 plays BluRay just fine :-)
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Cool thanks much Garycase! I will get started on this project ASAP!! Can't wait to hook my 46" 1080p Aquos to this rig!!
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Is it ok to go w/ Gigabyte EP45T-UD3P mobo w/ DDR3 instead of Gigabyte EP45-UD3P w/ DDR2?
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Sure ... it'll give you the slightly higher speed of DDR3 memory and is a very nice board.
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Thanks again. One last question before start going on a buying spree:
Will the Gigabyte 512MB HD4550 card be able to handle Vista Ultimate and 1080p decoding? Or should go for 1GB card (at the expense of $$ and noise).
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
It works just fine for me :-)
If I was going to get a video card with a fan, I'd go ahead and get something with a bit more "oomph" so my grandkids could use the 65" screen for their games ... perhaps an HD 4670, or maybe even a 4850.   But I'm quite happy with the 4550  [I have another PC the grandkids can use that has PLENTY of graphics "oomph" :-) ]
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Ok, perfect. I'm going to use the same config but for the exception of the mobo, DDR3 RAM, LG BluRay burner. I'm assuming all the h/w (including Zalman CPU fan) will fit nicely inside this box w/ no issues (as you have already done it!).

Thanks once again Mr.Case, I will close this question out in a few awarding full points to you!
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Yes, the Zalman fits nicely -- I don't think there will be any issue with the other motherboard, but that's really the only possible complication (and from the picture I don't think it's an issue).

There is one thing you need to be very careful with => the two hard drives in the "center" compartment (when you get the case you'll know what I mean) have VERY little room to run the cables.   I connected the cables and ran them through the other disk compartment, then back into the center.   They DO fit, but it's a challenge to get them in and the cables connected.   Once they're in, of course, it's no big deal -- there's good airflow with a very nicely designed bottom filter (simply pops out the front to clean).   But I said a few choice words as I was mounting those drives :-)    [If they simply made an access hole between the compartments where you could reach in and cable the drives it would be SO much easier.]

... don't misread that => it's a VERY nice case and I'd definitely use it again ... I just wish there was an extra 1/2 inch of clearance (or an access hole from the end compartment).
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emkaydAuthor Commented:
Cool thanks for the heads up. I have ordered almost everything, but the antec case is hard to find, it's very expensive on amazon and out of stock in newegg! Now I'll have all the parts but won't have the case to put everything together! fun!
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Just click the "auto-notify" on Newegg => they usually get things in stock within a few days.
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