How To HTPC

HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]A few Entertainment 2.0s ago we discussed building your own low cost HTPC. I have always been a big fan of Intel with my Revo HTPC, however for most people the Atom/ION combination is just not powerful enough for them. The Intel i3 is a great HTPC processor paired with Intel HD Graphics, however, this comes at a price. I decided to go where I have never gone before…AMD. AMD processors and Radeon graphics are both powerful and affordable. Check out the full review here in Part 2.

So here is my goal:

  • 2 ATSC/QAM tuners
  • Dual Core+ processor
  • 2 GB+ RAM
  • 500GB+ Hard Drive (TV Recording)
  • 1080p/Netflix HD/Hulu/Youtube HD flawless playback
  • $500 price point
  • The first things to do is to pick out the processor and motherboard. I looked around at all of the processors that AMD offers and it was a tough decision with prices of dual and triple cores ranging between $57 and $80. The Athlon II X2 240HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]) offers a 2.8GHz dual core processor and only pulls in 65W for $58, while the Athlon II X3 450HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1])is a 3.2GHz triple core processors but pulls in 95W of power. This was an extremely tough decision as I am on a tight budget, but the decision was easy once I found the motherboard, which was to go with the Athlon II X3.

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    The motherboard needed to support the AM3 chipset of the Athlon II chips and had to have the Radeon HD 4250 onboard. Since I want to build a small HTPC I found the BIOSTAR A880G+HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]), which features the 4250, has HDMI out, a PCI Express 2.0 x16, 2 PCI Slots, and 4 Sata ports. This little beauty was only $55, and had a $10 mail in rebate. To top it off if you bundled it with the Athlon II X3 you saved an additional $15, which brought the total of motherboard and processor to $110, which is a steal!

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    Since I found myself such a great deal on the motherboard and processor I decided to splurge just a little bit and get 4GB of DDR3 RAM. The choice was easy as G.SKILL has been my preferred memory of choice for some time, their
    G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] for only $49 will compliment the motherboard nicely.

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    Finding a nice computer case on a budget that has a nice design is extremely difficult to do. Finding a small form factor case adds complexity to this process as most cases are cheaply made, or just don’t look attractive. I took a long time to look through all of the MicroATX cases that Newegg had to offer, and I landed on a case by APEVIAHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]. It features a 420W power supply, four hard drive bays, and a front LCD temperature display which is a nice touch. This little guy looked like it would look nice sitting under my television and was only $80, plus it had a $10 mail in rebate bringing it down to $70.

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    Let’s get the software out of the way right away, we are going to be using
    Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]. It has the main feature we’re looking for: Windows 7 Media Center. We need an operating system, so there is no way to get around it. This will add on $100 to the base price of your machine.

    For tuners I really wanted to put an internal card, however most of the dual tuner cards are PCIe x1, however the motherboad only supports x16. You could go with 2 PCI cards which would be just fine as well, however to make everything simple I would recommend picking up a
    SiliconDust HDHomeRun Network-based Dual
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]). This is a network tuner, and Josh could not recommend it enough. It was on sale for $90.

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    You can get absolutely crazy with hard drives if you would like. I would recommend a nice SSD for your main drive, and a larger data drive, but with only $80 left in the budget I had to keep it simple. I was in luck today as I found a nice
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint 1TB
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]) on sale for $55. With $25 under budget you could stop here and checkout, or maybe you want to simplify your life with a nice
    Media Center Remote
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1] (on AmazonHTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]) for $23. I would obviously recommend a nice Harmony remote, but that is not in the budget. If you don’t need a remote then you could always get a dedicated hard drive for Windows so the 1TB drive is dedicated to Recorded TV.

    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    Now I maxed out the $500 limit here with everything I thought you might need, however this HTPC can be done for less. Let me break down some reductions:
    1.) PCIe Dual Tuner (-$20)
    2.) Cheaper Case (-$20 to $40)
    3.) 2GB RAM instead of 4GB (-$20)
    4.) No Media Center Remote (-$20)
    5.) Smaller Hard Drive? (-$20)

    With these you could easily bring it below $400, even less if you shopped around for deals on the Athlon II X2 processor. I went a bit overboard, but I think this is a solid configuration.

    The question you have now is how does it perform? You will find out in Part 2, I still have to build it! I just received the parts in the mail today, so check out this sweet unboxing video below!

    Update 1:
    Adding video/picture blog:

    Construction Gallery:
    [nggallery id=3]

    First Bootup:

    Bios sneak peak:

    Quick analysis + hard drive noise:

    Windows Experience Index:
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    System properties:
    HTPC on the Cheap, Part 1 [Update 1]

    Check out the full review here in Part 2.

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